Arizona duo thriving in Tahoe Hockey Academy environment
A pair of Arizona natives have taken their skills from the desert to the mountains and are establishing themselves as cornerstones of the prep team at Tahoe Hockey Academy.
Defenseman Jack Birecki and center Jared Shuter are in their second year as student-athletes at California’s first prep boarding school for hockey players, and the two juniors are thriving in their new environment.
“It’s really great that we are able to get so much ice time at Tahoe Hockey Academy,” Birecki said. “The elevation training is a big thing, too. I’m definitely in really good shape, and my skills have improved – and I’ve made a lot of great memories with my teammates.”
Birecki grew up playing hockey in Flagstaff until he was nine and when his family moved to Phoenix, he began skating with the Jr. Coyotes’ AAA teams. After three seasons, he moved over to the Arizona Bobcats and played for their 14U AAA squad, and then took the big leap of moving away from home to attend Tahoe Hockey Academy prior to last year.
Shuter, a Phoenix native, played three seasons for the Jr. Coyotes and another year for the Bobcats before deciding to leave home last year to join the Tahoe program.
“It just seemed like a really good opportunity to get on the ice a lot and get in great shape,” Shuter said. “I didn’t know that much about it, but I decided to take a chance to try to improve my skills as much as possible.
“It wasn’t that difficult of a decision for me. I didn’t think moving away from home would be too hard, and it hasn’t been too bad for me. It’s been a really positive experience for me. The first year was great, and I’m hoping to build on that in my second year.”
Shuter said the opportunity to be on the ice every day with head coach Mike Lewis has made a big difference, as their ice time isn’t limited like it is in so many other places and they’re not wasting time driving to and from the rink. He described the training facilities as top notch and said he appreciates how well the student-athletes’ time is managed.
Lewis, the head coach of Tahoe’s prep team, said Birecki has a great feel for the effort needed to continually improve.
“He understands the hard work that needs to be put in to reach the next level,” Lewis said. “Whether in the weight room or on the ice, he pushes his limits and has that desire to want to be the best. He’s a player that you can count on to give you everything because he expects nothing less from himself.”
Lewis said Shuter is the type of player who wants to win no matter what it takes.
“His attitude toward wanting to be better is what drives him to compete every shift,” Lewis said. “His work ethic is second to none, and you can tell he has his sights set on higher levels of hockey. I never question whether or not Jared is ready to go. He’s a player you want to do well because he deserves it.”
Leaving home at 15 might seem like a daunting prospect for a lot of teenagers and their parents, especially to attend school and play hockey for a program just getting off the ground. Birecki said that having a familiar face in Shuter by his side has made the experience that much easier.
“We played on the same team for the first time when we were 10 and one more season after that, so I’ve known Jared for a while,” Birecki said. “Our parents are friends, too, so it’s been a big help having a friend alongside me when I moved to Tahoe.”
— Greg Ball
(Dec. 6, 2017)