Arizona Rubber

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New Mexico’s Payson finding scoring touch with USPHL’s Aviators



It took some time to get the wind under their wings, but the New York Aviators could be taking off at just the right time.

The team, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., had a huge turnaround in what has been a sub-.500 season, going 8-2-0-1 since the start of the new year.

The Aviators are propelled by leading scorer Seth Payson, a native of Albuquerque, N.M., who skated in his home state through last season.


Payson has posted 37 points in 30 games for the Aviators of the USPHL Elite, the developmental division for the higher junior leagues of the USPHL. He also saw six games up with the USPHL Premier’s Aviators this year.

“We’ve really been picking it up,” said Payson, a 2001-born forward. “We started winning games and guys have started to get some drive. We can beat anyone in the league on any given day.”

Payson grew up on the west side of Albuquerque, surrounded on all sides by new construction in the growing city.

“Where I was there, the west side was just starting to grow,” said Payson. “The Outpost rink is all the way on the east side, so it was about as far away from where I lived to still be in Albuquerque. It’s not bad, though, only about a 20-minute drive max.

“Albuquerque was never a big hockey town, but there were guys who you could tell loved the game and would not quit. I made a solid friend group around some of these guys.”

He started as a Mite with what used to be known as New Mexico Ice, and is now the New Mexico Ice Wolves program. When he was a Squirt, he became serious about hockey.

“I had been into baseball and that came before hockey, but then I lost a couple teeth playing baseball, and quit after that season,” said Payson. “That same season, I broke my arm, and I thought I’d be out of hockey. However, I went to a Russian doctor in the city. He was a hockey fan and made me an arm cast that allowed me to still be able to grip a stick.”

He stuck with the Ice Wolves, and also played one year with the New Mexico Warriors. Once he was old enough, he played high school hockey at La Cueva.

“We had maybe five high schools in New Mexico, and we also played in Texas (Amarillo, El Paso and Odessa) and in Colorado (Durango),” said Payson.

His next stop in 2017-18 was with the Taos Road Runners at the 16U AA level.

“It was super fun – a good team for New Mexico,” said Payson. “Even though this state doesn’t have a lot of depth, the Road Runners found some of the best talent available at the 16U level.”

We played against a lot of 15U AAA teams, and did tournaments in Arizona, Vegas, and mostly in Colorado.”

During the summer, Payson wanted to test the waters of getting out to the larger hockey world.

“I went to a couple showcases, and (Aviators coach) Mike Stanaway saw me at a Global Hockey Showcase in Chicago,” said Payson. “He introduced himself there and said he was interested. I had a few different decisions to make, and this would be the best. My original plan was to graduate high school in New Mexico and then move, but I decided to go with online schooling and make the move.”

Albuquerque is in the same country, but it felt like a different world from New York City.

“This place is crazy. There’s so many people, and there’s traffic 24-7, doesn’t matter what time it is,” said Payson.

Payson is excited that he’s had the chance to practice with both teams and see the games up with the Premier squad this year.

“I wasn’t one of the better guys on the Premier team when I started, but now I can keep up with them every single day,” said Payson. “Coach John Sacco has helped me a lot with my skating. I went back for Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks and skated with friends, just shooting pucks around, and they were all saying, ‘When did you get so good?’”

Pressure and being pushed are two driving factors that Payson always likes when it comes to hockey.

“I like having someone in front of me to raise the bar – if there’s no one better than me on a team, I’m not getting pushed and there’s nothing to strive for,” he said. “Being with the Premier team, you see the Ledenkov brothers (Arkhip and Filimon) and guys like Egan Wolford, and I’ve never seen guys that good at hockey before. Everyone on that team is that good, there is not one person on that team that hurts the team. Everyone is good people, which helps, too.”

After this season winds up, Payson will again look at all the options and hopes to continue climbing the hockey ladder.

“I want to play Tier II hockey next, either here in the U.S. or in Canada,” said Payson, who is looking at trying out for teams in the National Collegiate Development Conference, the USPHL’s tuition-free Tier II league.

He’s come a long way from the Outpost rink in Albuquerque, and Seth Payson is not done yet with the goal of taking his game as high as he can go.

Photo/Stephen Spencer/Action Photography

— Joshua Boyd/

(March 6, 2019)