Tahoe Prep players continuing to build success, on and off the ice
January is often a time to set new year’s resolutions for a lot of people – eat better, work out more consistently, get focused on achieving a new goal.
It’s a time of year for renewals and to get a fresh start on pursuing the things that mean the most to you.
It’s no different for hockey players and coaches, even if the new year falls squarely in the middle of their season.
At Tahoe Prep Academy, players, coaches and administrators are working hard to reach their goals in 2020 and beyond.
For them, everything they do is all about skill development and preparing players for their next steps, whether that’s junior hockey or college.
Spending nearly every day on the ice gives players plenty of opportunity to get better, and the unique academic environment at Tahoe, which mixes online learning and in-person classes at South Tahoe High School, provides the opportunity for Tahoe Prep’s student athletes to thrive despite the challenges of being away from the classroom to travel.
While all the players on the academy’s varsity and prep teams are thriving in their own rights, here’s a look at five players who are making significant strides as the calendar flips to 2020.
When Tahoe Prep Academy’s first international student arrived in Lake Tahoe, he found it oddly familiar.
A native of Rapperswil-Jona, Switzerland, Buerer said he was surprised how much Tahoe looked like his home country.
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Buerer said. “With all of the mountains and nature, it definitely reminded me of home.”
The 18-year-old goalie for the prep team said Tahoe Prep attracted him because he was looking for a place to play competitive hockey, graduate from high school, and pursue his dream of playing college hockey. The University of Notre Dame is his dream school.
Buerer started playing hockey at age 12, and said he skated out for one tournament before discovering that being in the net was more his style.
“I don’t give up easy,” Buerer said of his hockey strengths. “I can read the game, and I have good patience and speed. I’m working to improve my puck handling and post play since I’m a smaller guy.”
Buerer has posted save percentages of .859 in the prep team’s East Coast Elite League games and .875 in the North American Prospects Hockey League’s (NAPHL) Prep division.
“The East Coast players are really talented and good,” he said. “It’s fast, physical hockey. The Minnesota teams are hard, with very talented players, and they’re very big guys, too. You can feel that hockey is everything to them. But I feel we are competitive. Our team is hard working.”
Buerer had more adjustments than just hockey leagues in joining the Tahoe Prep roster.
“It’s a lot different from Switzerland,” he said. “The whole school system is different, and I’d never taken online classes. But it’s great, it’s a good school, and the classes are interesting. It was also new to me to be living with the team and being around the guys all the time. The best part is all the road trips we take — using planes to go to games is very exciting for me. I’ve learned a lot this year too, living with guys my own age.
“It’s about respect.”
A senior from Rocklin, Boyko in his third year with Tahoe Prep. He said he put in the time over the summer in the gym and on the ice to be ready for his move up to the prep team.
“I came back with the approach that this was going to be another year of development along the road to my goal of college hockey,” Boyko said. “I’ve pretty much been living here all of high school, so my friends are here, and playing my senior year on the prep team was a big motivator.”
All the work has paid off, and he has two goals to date in the team’s NAPHL games this season.
“I’ve learned that there is not much you can do by yourself on the ice,” Boyklo said. “You have to pass and rely on your team, and you really have very little time with the puck. You have to move it.”
As the team enters the 2020 part of the season, Boyko said he is focusing on the details and working to get in the best shape he can for May camps and showcases.
“My goal is to make an NAHL team right now,” Boyko said. “You always shoot for the top, and if you put in the work, hopefully, you land someplace that you’re happy with.”
After attending a summer camp with Tahoe Prep, Arioto started turning his eyes toward being at the academy full time. The 16-year-old junior from Fresno played with the Fresno Jr. Monsters last season, and spending five days a week on the ice in Tahoe sounded very attractive.
“I was interested in the amount of practice I would be getting at the academy,” Arioto said. “I would say that overall I’m a better player now than when I came. I have also learned how much effort you need to put in if you want to play in college, and that you probably need to put in more than you already think you’re putting in.”
Arioto said the move has provided other lessons beyond the ice.
“The dorms come with positives and negatives,” he admitted. “Living with other people can get annoying, but I’ve also learned a lot more about handling things on my own. I have also had to adjust to the cold. Tahoe is a lot colder than Fresno.”
The Tahoe Prep varsity team is leading the San Jose Sharks High School Division I Varsity league with 15 points, and for Arioto, a highlight was his goal against Pioneer High School.
“I like how the coaches work on your individual skills and moves,” he said. “They are coordinated in the practices and are really nice.”
A 17-year-old senior from Chico, Bertagna switched from roller hockey to ice hockey in Aug. 2018.
The forward started his junior year at the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Ontario, Canada, and then transferred to Tahoe in Jan. 2019. The reason he returned to Tahoe for his senior year was because he saw how much he could develop there.
“I love being on the ice every day,” Bertagna said. “I go to the gym and play hockey, and I love it. Ice hockey has really taught me to be more physical in my play.”
Bertagna said the opportunities being offered to him in roller hockey may find him going back to the sport next year.
“I will probably end up at Lindenwood or Bethel University with a Division I roller hockey team,” he said, adding that he has spring visits planned to both schools.
Being a senior on the varsity team, Bertagna said he is trying to step up and set a good example. He has also found success in the San Jose Sharks High School Hockey League, with two goals and an assist.
“I’m not as consistent as I would like to be on the ice yet, but my shot is doing well,” Bertagna said. “I’m just really enjoying this year. It’s definitely the lifestyle I like to live – being on the ice every day and in the gym.”
When Reagan told his parents he wanted to go to a hockey prep school, they brought up Tahoe Prep. The 14-year-old freshman from San Jose was a defenseman with the San Jose Jr. Sharks last year and was interested in doing more to advance his skills.
“I wanted to play junior hockey, and prep school seemed the best path,” Reagan said.
A major positive for Reagan and his family was Tahoe Prep’s proximity to home. He said his parents get to attend many of his varsity games and when they play in San Jose, he gets to spend some time at home. The academy’s training schedule has helped the freshman take significant strides in his hockey development.
“I get sore more often, but my shots have gotten harder, and I like the speed to the games,” Reagan said. “I think I’m good in the defensive zone, but I need to work on the offensive zone and recognizing plays.”
Reagan said the Tahoe Prep coaching staff offers a good range of training focuses, which can only make him better as he progresses through his high school career.
“Chris Collins is more focused on speed and skills, while Mike Lewis runs a lot more flow drills, and Leo Fenn handles mostly team-based drills – it’s a nice combination,” Reagan said.
— Greg Ball
(Feb. 11, 2020)