First-year RGHSHL commish Ensign seeing league evolve, grow, with heavy presence in New Mexico
Having just completed his first year as commissioner of the Rio Grande High School Hockey League (RGHSHL), Brian Ensign is already looking forward to his second season in 2020-21.
Ensign volunteered for the position after Kevin Brake stepped down and then the league coaches, which includes three from New Mexico (Albuquerque Bears, Los Alamos Hilltoppers, Rio Rancho Cougars), one from Texas (Big Texan Bulls) and two from Colorado (Durango Demons, Telluride Miners), voted him in during the 2019 summer meeting.
“Kevin had been commissioner for the previous three years and was looking for someone else to take the reins,” said Ensign. “I felt like I had something to contribute and with the support of (Rio Rancho coach) Brett Lovette offering to be the assistant commissioner and Kevin still helping, we have had a good season.”
The 2019-20 season wrapped up March 1 as Durango won the RGHSHL championship. Ensign has coached the Demons for the past three seasons.
“Ideally, the commissioner would not be a current coach with a vested interest and knowledge into the league, but we did not have any interested nominees,” noted Ensign. “When I became the Durango head coach three seasons ago, the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League was losing their host, LOEAHA (Land of Enchantment Amateur Hockey Association). Kevin saved the day by getting the Los Alamos Hockey Association to take the new league (RGHSHL) under their wing and this is where we are today.”
Ensign has some pretty extensive hockey experience and is also a director in his profession. He played and coached high school hockey in Minnesota, played in the USHL and in college and for the past eight years, has lived in Durango and been heavily involved in the youth program as a coach, referee, USA Hockey coaches trainer and helping the board with coaches support.
“Overall, the varsity season went very well this year,” Ensign said. “For me, it has been a learning year and I have really depended on others with historical knowledge to guide the way. During that process, I have been documenting changes that we will try to institute for the 2020-21 season.
“We have 10 programs with JV and varsity possibilities and this year only six teams could field a qualified varsity squad, which worked, but also is not our goal. We would like to have a North and South Division and limit travel while giving the league a lot of competition from our entire range of programs.”
Ensign said he came away impressed with the talent level from the New Mexico schools.
“I think the overall talent in the league is good and the pace, skill and discipline with the teams and programs has improved,” said Ensign. “Albuquerque is on the rise as a hotbed for hockey in the area due to the NAHL’s Ice Wolves team. The better skilled players in some of these larger hockey communities now have more options – high school, 16U A or 16U AA.”
Still, Ensign sees opportunities for growth and improvement in the immediate future within the RGHSHL.
“We are taking baby steps to improve the structure of the league, identifying travel and expense barriers, and working on getting schedules out quicker for the next season,” Ensign said. “We are trying to get high school hockey on the map with each community and encouraging strong school support and pride around their individual teams.
“We had a very successful RGHSHL year-end tournament and we want to continue to grow the coverage and event. We are having discussions around improving the grade expectations and monitoring to magnify the student in the student-athlete. We are also having discussions about ways to provide feedback to refs and have a merit refereeing system for bigger games.”
— Matt Mackinder
(April 14, 2020)