Standouts Dahlen, Nordorf, Boyko, Coca succeeding for TPHA, both on and off the ice
As the weather cools down and snow starts to sprinkle the mountain peaks all around, things are heating up at Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy.
Tahoe’s prep team was off to a 13-3 start through the end of October and had outscored their opponents 77-42. The varsity group was 1-1 in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL) and had the same record in the Sharks High School Hockey League.
Noah Dahlen, Jacob Nordorf, Alex Boyko and Brendan Coca are four players who have played a big part in Tahoe’s early-season success. And they’re not just succeeding on the ice – each boasts a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.
A senior defenseman on Tahoe’s prep team, Dahlen had scored two goals and notched three assists through the end of October. Originally from Orange, he started with Tahoe Prep when it first opened and is now in his third season and academic year there.
Dahlen started playing roller hockey at age five and moved to an in-house ice program the next year. It wasn’t long before he realized how much more he enjoyed it compared to other sports he played.
“It had everything I liked,” he explained. “It’s competitive, fast and fun to be around your team.”
In his two-plus seasons at Tahoe, he has improved by leaps and bounds thanks to plenty of ice time and the dedication of the coaching staff.
“Before I came here, I had the mindset of trying to do everything by myself,” Dahlen said. “The coaches have helped me develop my hockey sense more and use my strengths as well as my teammates’ strengths.
“I went into this year with the motivation to make it the best year possible for me. I’m focused on improving my footwork and speed and spending the extra time off the ice in the workout room and on my nutrition. At the academy, I have learned how to grow up and basically be a young adult. It’s helped me tremendously.”
With his sights set on a career in computer engineering or culinary arts (he has loved cooking since he was a little kid), he is hoping to attend Arizona State University or Ferris State (Mich.) University and continue his hockey career while pursuing his academic goals.
Having told his parents as early as second grade that he wanted to attend a hockey prep school when he was older, Nordorf didn’t hesitate when the opportunity to play hockey and study at Tahoe Prep came along. A junior defenseman from Gardena, he’s in his second season at Tahoe, and he knew it was the right place for him when he saw the roster of coaches that it was employing.
“Tahoe’s coaching staff was pretty much the selling point for me,” Nordorf said. “I’ve known Mike Lewis a long time, and the coaching I get from him and Chris Collins has been amazing. The exposure we have gotten playing for Tahoe this year has been nationwide – we’re really on the map now. We went 4-0 in Minnesota in our last tournament. This is kind of Tahoe’s breakout year, and we’re getting better every day.”
Nordorf hopes to play at the highest level in college and wearing a Boston University sweater is his dream. He said he has matured personally and academically since he landed in Tahoe and has thrived thanks to the academy’s blend of in-person and online education.
“I need to take some classes face-to-face,” he said. “It would be hard for me to get through a math class online, but this is the right mix and it has helped teach me time management. I’m much better about not putting things off.”
Before coming to Tahoe, Boyko commuted more than an hour each way from his family’s home in Rocklin – northeast of Sacramento – to play for the Vacaville Jets program, so when he heard about Tahoe Prep opening, it wasn’t a hard decision to commit to the academy.
“You’re telling me there is a prep school two hours away from my house in beautiful Lake Tahoe and I get to play hockey every day? Who wouldn’t want to do that?” Boyko said. “I obviously came for hockey, but I’m a big nature guy. I’ve lived my whole life in the Sacramento area and it’s so hot and we have no snow – here we are right in the middle of the forest, and at night you can see so many shooting stars. I miss home sometimes, but I love the cold and snow, and it’s just so beautiful here.”
A junior forward on the varsity team (who has also played a handful of games with the prep team), Boyko is in his second year at Tahoe Prep and plans to make the next step in his hockey development with a junior or college team. He’d like to follow his parents’ path into the tech industry. He said the coaching he has received in Tahoe, along with the opportunity to be on the ice much more regularly than with other programs, has been instrumental in his improvement as a player.
“The program develops you unbelievably fast,” Boyko said. “The coaches are great. They improve all of our skills through drills and the systems they have put in place.”
While the staff at Tahoe Prep recruits all across the country, Coca landed at the academy by approaching them. A junior center from Thornton, Colo., he met Lewis (also TPHA’s athletic director) at a CCM Showcase event in Denver last year to learn more about the school. After touring the campus with his family in June, Coca decided to enroll, and hasn’t looked back.
“In terms of development, skills and ice time, Tahoe is second to none,” Coca said. “Honestly, I love it. I love being on the ice more. It’s a very constructive place as well. If you mess up, the coaches aren’t going to get in your face. They are going to try to help you fix the problem.”
Coca plays on Tahoe’s varsity team and has suited up for a handful of games with the prep squad. His short-term goals include helping Tahoe Prep win the ADHSHL championship and to develop enough this year to get an official spot on the prep team. His long-term goal is to play NCAA Division I hockey and study business.
“It’s always been my dream to play college hockey,” he said.
His time at Tahoe should help prepare him for that possibility. While it was a leap of faith for him to enroll at Tahoe Prep and leave the comforts of home, just a couple months into his tenure there, he’s already feeling welcome.
“It was a big change for me in the first week or two, but I think I’ve adjusted,” Coca said. “When you have an environment like this where you are with people 24/7, you aren’t lonely. You have a lot of support.”
— Greg Ball
(Nov. 29, 2018)