Tahoe Prep players finding success, on and off the ice, as 2020 calendar year begins
With the new year here, we’re also moving into the thick of hockey season.
And at Tahoe Prep Academy, this time of year often brings with it a turning point for the young hockey players and students living away from home in the mountains.
First-year players start to feel at home, and players who are veterans there begin to relish in their roles as mentors. The prep and varsity teams start to show signs of gelling, and the results show not only in wins and losses, but in the development of each players’ skills.
Here is a look at six players making an impact along the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Now in his second season at Tahoe Prep, Bennett, a 16-year-old junior forward for the varsity team, said he feels completely at home. The Salt Lake City native is in his element at Tahoe, and more than that, he knows he’s making the strides necessary to develop as a hockey player.
“I wanted to return this year to continue to gain opportunities and possibly get scouted by colleges and junior teams,” Bennett said. “After a full year here, I’m better at time management and I have more familiarity with what I have to do to stay on top of school and hockey.”
Bennett is focused on putting his full effort into every moment he’s on the ice to maximize his development. He is also working on his communication, knowing that it can lead to team success now and in the future.
“I’m helping myself through work ethic on and off the ice and trying to do more every day,” he said. “The competition has gotten a lot better. The teams we are playing have become stronger and smarter, and it makes me want to work harder to achieve my goals.
“It’s kind of fun to teach the new kids the ropes and help to get more of the guys to bond together. To improve as a team, we need to make sure everyone is on the same page when we’re out on the ice.”
In the varsity’s last showing in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL), the team notched two wins against La Jolla Country Day and fell to Bellarmine. Bennett attributed the success to the team’s cohesiveness and remembering to have fun.
“My dad said my hockey has improved tenfold since coming to Tahoe Prep from Utah, and he sees me growing into the young man he thought I’d become,” Bennett said.
The jump from AA hockey with the Pasadena Maple Leafs to playing with Tahoe’s varsity team has been eye-opening for Anastasia, a 16-year-old sophomore defenseman from Sierra Madre, but he has already seen the benefits.
The chance to be on the ice every day and experience living away from home attracted Anastasia to Tahoe.
“It’s been a good transition for me,” he said. “Before coming here, I was only on the ice three days a week, as opposed to practically every day here. I never did a visit day, so I came up all at once, and it’s what I thought it would be. I’m happy with all of the ice time and the friends I’ve made. Living in the dorms is kind of like a big sleepover, and I love to ski, so I’m looking forward to that.”
Anastasia said he is working on his goal of playing with the prep team next year, and in the long term, he would like to go to an Ivy League school and study business.
“School has always been easy for me, and the blended schedule with online and face-to-face learning that we have here is good,” he said. “I’ve had fewer late nights now doing work because the day is set up so you don’t have to.”
The move to Tahoe has also involved life lessons for Anastasia.
“You learn the dos and don’ts pretty quickly,” he explained. “Like, don’t leave your stuff out. But, more importantly, I’ve learned to persevere. Things aren’t always going to go your way, and it’s more about how you deal with those situations.”
After his first season and school year at Tahoe Prep in 2018-19, O’Dowd knew he had made the right decision. A 16-year-old left wing from Santa Barbara, he has moved up from the varsity team last year to the prep squad, though he’s still playing some games with the varsity, adding plenty of quality ice time.
“I saw how much I was able to develop on the varsity and saw how far I could go playing another year at prep,” said O’Dowd, who scored two goals in East Coast Elite League (ECEL) games the weekend after Thanksgiving. “It was a big change, and it took a while to adjust to the speed of the game and the time you have to make decisions. It’s nice to be surrounded by teammates who want to win as much as you do.
“In our first ECEL games, I found them pretty difficult, but I’ve just been taking it one game at a time. It’s been really fun to see all these new places that I’ve only seen in pictures – like going to Boston for the first time.”
O’Dowd said he has seen marked improvement in his shot and skating speed this season, and he’s continuing to work on his stickhandling and passing. The goals he set when he first came to Tahoe are still the same.
“I still want to play Division I college hockey, and it’s more likely now than it was at the beginning of last year,” he said. “Academically, I have straight A’s right now, and I’m trying to close out Advanced Placement English with another A.”
A meeting with Tahoe Prep head coach Chris Collins at the CCM Showcase last year started to turn Evenson’s eye toward the first hockey boarding school on the West Coast. The meeting turned into a visit, which solidified the 16-year-old’s choice to exchange the Rocky Mountains of his home in Denver for the Sierra Nevada.
“I really liked the dorms, and I felt I could really get the support I needed here,” Evenson said. “Waking up every day and going to practice and then going to school is just such a great way to start the day. Getting to do something you love before school is a privilege.”
A junior, he previously played for the Colorado Thunderbirds. He was instantly impressed as soon as he set foot on the Tahoe Prep campus, and the experience hasn’t disappointed him in the least.
“The facility we work out in is the nicest I’ve been in,” Evenson said. “And playing against older kids in the ECEL and North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) has made me stronger, physically and mentally.”
Evenson said his hockey dreams like most players are big, but right now he’s focused on moving up to play juniors, and possibly seeing one of Tahoe Prep’s famed bears.
“I’m the only one who hasn’t seen bear yet,” Evenson joked. “I’ve never seen a bear, and I really want to.”
As one of Tahoe Prep’s original student-athletes, Sechrist has had a front-row seat for the academy’s progress over the last four years. The 17-year-old senior forward from Santa Rosa is splitting time between the varsity and prep teams this season, and relishing the opportunity to compete so much.
“This year I’m probably going to play about 100 games,” Sechrist said. “It’s a big schedule but it’s good. Hockey is fun. Being able to go to a public school and still get this is experience is great.”
Sechrist had put together some nice stats through the end of November, with three points in ECEL games, one in the NAPHL, eight in the ADHSHL and two in the Sharks High School Hockey League. Sechrist said that besides getting a little bigger and faster over the last three years at Tahoe Prep, he has also learned to adapt to the pace of high-level hockey.
“We’ve learned a lot as a team so far this season, and I feel that once everyone buys in, we are really going to improve,” Sechrist said.
A week spent in Tahoe during Tahoe Prep’s summer camp convinced Schumann to move up the mountain from Sacramento for his sophomore year. The 16-year-old forward previously played for the Capital Thunder.
“That scouting camp convinced me and my parents to commit,” Schumann said. “I wanted to become a better hockey player, improve my academics and become more independent.”
The formula is working. Schumann boasts a 4.0 grade-point average this term and said he feels more confident all around on the ice.
“I just really want to go as far as I can, maybe play college, but just get as far as I can,” Schumann said. “The coaches really spend a lot of time on individual development and working on your skills. It was really hard in the beginning being on the ice every day, but it becomes a habit.”
As for independence, Schumann said moving away from home for the first time has also brought those lessons.
“I’m not that far away, so I can go home on the weekends, but I’m really enjoying Tahoe,” he said. “I love the snow and my classes at South Tahoe High School. Our team is also really bonding, and it showed in our last weekend. We pulled together as a team and played well.”
— Greg Ball
(Jan. 15, 2020)