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Hockey DNA runs deep in Aspen's Doremus family

By Chris Bayee, SportsEngine, 02/24/21, 8:30PM MST

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Hub exclusive: Andrew and Jeanne Doremus and their five sons have a long and storied history with hockey in the Aspen community.

Members of the Doremus family enjoying each other's company in an old family photo. Photo courtesy of the Doremus Family

Members of the Doremus family enjoying each other's company in an old family photo. Photo courtesy of the Doremus Family

The hockey goal that has stood watch over the Doremus family driveway in Aspen for the past 20 years has pretty much seen it all.

It has been subjected to innumerable hours of being pelted by pucks, courtesy of hundreds of shots per day and countless games of driveway hockey by five ultra-competitive brothers and a host of their associates.

The goal declined to comment for this story, but the rest of the Doremus family fondly recalled their Aspen upbringing and hockey’s growing role in Colorado’s high country.

“Are we a ski town with a hockey problem, or a hockey town with a ski problem?” the Doremus patriarch, Andrew, asked.

In the case of Andrew and Jeanne and their five sons, it’s probably a bit of both. All of the boys played multiple sports, but skiing and hockey were central themes in their upbringing. 

“We followed one another from the littlest things to big things, like playing sports and skiing in the winter,” said Jack, a senior forward at the University of Denver who along with twin brother Willy rounds out Andrew and Jeanne’s quintet. “Our parents both grew up in Aspen and they’re both huge skiers. 

“A lot of our friends played hockey so Sunday would be a ski day. There might be 13 of us out with a guide and we’d just be maniacs on the mountain. All of us got pretty good at it, but eventually we had to decide between that and hockey.”

Net gains

It’s safe to say hockey won out. All five boys played the sport for Aspen Junior Hockey and Aspen High School, starting with Ryan and continuing through Tyler, Daniel, and twins Jack and Willy. 

The brothers’ natural competitive fires were stoked by Andrew’s simple acquisition.

“We had a lot of nets growing up, but the driveway net, which we still have, is unique,” said Daniel, who played three seasons of pro hockey after a four-year career with the University of Denver that included 158 games (just nine shy of the Pioneers’ record) and 90 points. “It was a Christmas morning feeling. I must have been 10 at the time.

“Usually we had this old net, or one that had plastic poles — cheap ones. There was this new ice hockey goal with a tight net, padding at the bottom, just like in the NHL. Where did this beautiful thing come from?

“We would log hours out there.”

There was one catch, however.

“If I wanted to play hockey with Ryan (then 16) or Tyler (then 13), the only way I could play was if I was the goalie. When did I get to shoot? My brothers had these rules where you had to save 10 in a row, and missing the net or hitting a post didn’t count. Only then would Tyler go in.”

Daniel finally stopped 10 shots, shed the goalie gear and was told, “Now you have to score every single time or you go back in.”

The net sits near a 10-foot wall of boulders, gazing at an approximately 20 square foot space. Small area games and shooting contests met 8,000 feet. 

“You got good at being a goalie,” Willy said. “It was a rite of passage. As we got older the competitions changed — who could hit the crossbar the most or the plastic plates we’d hang.

“Jack and I would shoot a 100 pucks a day or more. We watched Ryan, Tyler and Daniel do it. It would be a reliever to shoot for an hour and converse with Daniel (who is six years older).”

“Are we a ski town with a hockey problem, or a hockey town with a ski problem? ”

— Andrew Doremus on Aspen

Old-time hockey

Goalie wasn’t universally loathed in the household. Andrew kicked off the 50-year family legacy in the sport when he started playing — stationed between the pipes — during his early teens for Aspen Junior Hockey.

“I grew up in ski town, but hockey sounded fun,” he recalled. 

His attempt to walk on at the University of Denver in the mid-1970s didn’t work out, but it did lead to the formation of an intramural powerhouse with his buddies. The thought of eventually having two sons play for the Pioneers still can be hard to wrap his arms around.

“It would have been beyond my comprehension at that time because Division I was dominated by Canadian players,” Andrew said. “I think 80% of Murray Armstrong’s teams were Canadian. They were bigger, faster and stronger.”

Chain-link fence stood above the boards, not glass, and there was no facial protection and plenty of fighting. 

“It was really rugged,” he said. “The changes in the sport to allow more speed and skill have brought out the best in it.”

When oldest son Ryan entered school he wanted to try hockey, and his parents were all for it. 

“We never forced it on him, but being involved in it again reminded me what a great sport it is,” said Andrew, who got involved in Aspen Junior Hockey at various times as a coach, board member and even club president. The Aspen program grew at one point to 300 players, matching the number of ski racers at corresponding ages.

“A lot of kids did both, and the sports complemented each other very well.”

Ryan, a 1985 birth year, was one of those kids, but he didn’t stop at two sports. By the time he was in high school he also was lettering in football, golf, baseball, tennis and track and field. And he loved competing in all seven of them.

“I just liked sports,” he said. “I was always playing something. I never committed to hockey 100% like my brothers.”

Tyler Doremus (18), the second of five sons in the family, played for NCAA Division III Skidmore College before eventually ending his playing career. Photo courtesy of Skidmore Athletics

Tyler Doremus (18), the second of five sons in the family, played for NCAA Division III Skidmore College before eventually ending his playing career. Photo courtesy of Skidmore Athletics

Anything he can do …

The scales tipped in hockey’s favor with Tyler (’88), who began the family parade of college hockey players when in 2008 he went to Skidmore College, a private liberal arts school in New York. 

“I played a lot of sports growing up, but in middle school I started focusing on hockey and skiing,” he said. “I was better at skiing — I didn’t make an A team until Pee Wee — but I loved hockey more.

His passion showed in his work ethic.

“Tyler would wake up at 5 a.m. so he could go skate at 5:30 a.m. before his 6 a.m. practice,” Andrew recalled. “I had a key to the rink, so we’d go over and I’d turn on the lights. 

“I was fortunate enough my kids had this drive — I don’t know where it came from — but they had it.”

It turns out it’s a built-in feature.

“I’m truly self-motivated,” Tyler said. “I’m addicted to the competitive nature of something I almost feel like I can’t do.

“A lot of work goes into being good at hockey. I’d shoot 100 or more pucks every night at 13, 14. Hard work has never scared me, and that has translated into my professional life.”

Today he is the head of growth for a northern California start-up, called Step. Rewind 15 years and he was looking for a way to grow in hockey.  Summer skates and conversations with players from Aspen such as Yale Lewis (Northeastern University) and Brett Norris gave him a road map. He ended up playing a season of AAA hockey with the Colorado Outlaws.  

Tyler had the first of two shoulder surgeries after that season and ultimately ended playing junior hockey with the New England Jr. Huskies of the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) the next two seasons. The team struggled during his first season.

“It was a good mental strength year. I learned a lot of fortitude and humility,” Tyler said.

He tried out for a United States Hockey League (USHL) team and didn’t make it. He had another shoulder operation after his second junior season and decided to play the long game and get as good of an education as he could while continuing to play hockey in college. He ended up at Skidmore College and played 99 games over four seasons.

This piqued the interest of Daniel (’91).

“Tyler’s passion made the idea of playing hockey at a higher level seem achievable for our younger brothers,” Ryan said. “Tyler wasn’t the biggest or fastest but he had determination. I know Daniel leaned on him, and learned what he did right and what he did wrong.”

The middle brother had watched and learned.

“I always looked up to my older brothers,” Daniel said. “What they did, I wanted to do. Tyler was the first to leave home (to play hockey). I followed him much more closely — what did he do, from warm-ups to practice. He went and played AAA. I thought, ‘If he can, maybe I can.’

“He played junior. ‘Maybe I can.’ He went and played in college. I was a sophomore in high school and I wanted to play AAA and play (Division III) with my brother. I didn’t think playing (Division I) was achievable at the time. I loved the game, and I thought playing with my brother would be the coolest thing in the world. That was my catalyst for playing AAA.

“My first game (with the Colorado Thunderbirds), I scored two goals. I was just having fun. … When you don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself, it’s amazing what you can achieve.”

Junior teams quickly caught on. A three-game cameo with the Tri-City Storm of the USHL didn’t go especially well, but no matter. Daniel was enjoying his first year playing away from home.

“Denver had been talking to me a lot, and I started to realize maybe I won’t be playing with Tyler,” Daniel said. “It really hit me. Why not set the bar higher? Enjoy the ride along the way.”

Then-Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky had Daniel and his parents in for an official visit and laid out it all out.

“When I committed to DU it didn’t even feel real. I wondered where’s (MTV’s) ‘Punk’d’ crew? Gwoz said, ‘Get back to me in a week.’ It took me about 12 minutes to make my decision, but I waited the week.”

The next season he headed to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to play junior hockey. The University of Denver brought him in after one season of junior on the heels of one season of Midget AAA. Clearly a master of the transition game, Daniel jumped right into the Pioneers’ lineup and stayed there. 

“That next step, college to pros, is harder,” he said. “My inspiration became my teammates — Drew Shore, Beau Bennett, Nick Shore, Jason Zucker. I’m keeping up with them, and then I’m watching them play in the NHL on TV. I need to do as much as I can. ”

Next was a three-year pro career before entering the business world. He again followed Tyler’s footsteps and relocated to the Bay Area to work, where he had spent one of his pro seasons with the San Jose Sharks organization.

Daniel (pictured) was the first Doremus brother to skate for an NCAA Division I program, as he played for the Pioneers in Denver before embarking on a brief pro career. Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

Daniel (pictured) was the first Doremus brother to skate for an NCAA Division I program, as he played for the Pioneers in Denver before embarking on a brief pro career. Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

By this point, Jack and Willy were establishing themselves — on the driveway and elsewhere. Both were strong contributors to a Thunderbirds 16U AAA team that lost in the USA Hockey national championship game in quadruple overtime in 2014.

“That team had some serious skill, and as we progressed as a team everything started clicking,” Willy said. “Angelo (Ricci) and (former Avalanche defenseman) Adam Foote were a great balance. That was the year I learned the most in hockey.”

Willy, the family’s lone defenseman and left shot, also was the biggest at 6-foot-3. He was invited to the USA Select 17s, played a year in Chicago in the U.S. Prospects Hockey League and some Tier 3 junior hockey in Aspen before going to the University of Colorado Boulder, where he graduated from in May. 

Jack, meanwhile, committed to the University of Denver and then played two seasons in the USHL before returning to Colorado in 2017 to suit up for the Pioneers, helping them to the Frozen Four in 2019. 

So while Jack’s college career is winding down, the Doremus hockey circle remains unbroken.

Ryan, who is an architect, returned to the state in 2012 and began coaching at Aspen the next year. Currently, he heads up the club’s in-house program and assists with any teams that need help behind the bench.

“In-house was what I was really enjoying,” he said. “I have a passion for these multi-sport athletes because that’s what I was. We’ve had players make the national team in skiing and a Division III football player come out of it.”

Said Jack: “He’s the one brother who didn’t move on in hockey but he’s making the most impact on the Aspen hockey community today with how much time he’s spent with the in-house program.”

Willy's twin brother Jack Doremus (pictured) followed older brother Daniel's example of going to the University of Denver, where he's now in his senior season. Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

Willy's twin brother Jack Doremus (pictured) followed older brother Daniel's example of going to the University of Denver, where he's now in his senior season. Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

The fulcrum of the brothers’ ascents in hockey has been Andrew and Jeanne. Thirty years of being hockey parents, let that sink in. 

“It was such a pleasure to do this with other hockey parents,” Andrew said. “It wasn’t like work. There were times we had to divide and conquer. But the hockey family is what makes it work. Everyone helps, and you never feel like you’re a lone soldier.

“People talk about all the travel with hockey. It’s insignificant when you’re having such a good time with these families.”

Still, their sons look back in awe at their parents’ sacrifices. Start with meals.

“We went to Costco every week. Every day a box of cereal or more and a gallon of milk,” Ryan said. “My parents would cook enough for 10 people, and by bedtime it was all gone.”

There was a method to it, Daniel said. “My mom would delegate — you either helped prepare the meal or clean up after it. We still do that at family dinners.”

Then there were the logistics, a field Willy currently works in.

“The only reason I got a car was parents made me a chauffeur,” Ryan laughed. “That’s how I got gas money.”

At one point Andrew bought a motorhome to lug the boys and some teammates around in. 

“The older I’ve gotten it’s put the amount of work into perspective,” Daniel said. “They didn’t have a social life for years because of hockey. … It was a marathon of executing well.”

Andrew said he and Jeanne’s approach was straight forward. “We wanted to teach our boys the basics,” he said. “Pleases and thank yous, and if you start something you finish it. 

“If you write nothing else, you need to mention Jeanne is the best mom on the planet. It took two of us.”

The goal meanwhile, has had a front-row seat for all of it.

“I’ve tried to get rid of it, but they won’t let me,” Andrew said. “To this day the boys will shoot on it when they come home.”

It’s an enduring symbol of what determination, competition and hard work can yield in hockey and in life.

“Jack and I were the luckiest,” Willy said. “We can pull from all of their experiences. It used to be about hockey, but now it’s moved to professional life, relationships and networking.”

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