Daily improvement the name of the game at Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy
With the holidays suddenly past and the hockey season well into the second half, the teams at Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy are hitting their stride.
The school’s prep team was off to a 6-2-0 start in the NAHL Prep division, and the varsity squad was 3-1-0-2 competing in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League.
Here are six players who have been making an impact for Tahoe this season:
A 15-year-old sophomore, Csaky-Schwede plays goalie for Tahoe Prep’s varsity team. He is a native of Victoria, B.C., who started playing hockey at the age of four and discovered his passion between the pipes when he was 10.
He was convinced to cross international borders to continue his schooling and further develop his hockey career when he saw the incredible resources that would be available to him at Tahoe Prep. He and his family considered a number of other boarding schools before he landed in Tahoe this season, and it has been a great decision.
“The dorms are incredibly nice, and it’s beautiful here,” Csaky-Schwede said. “It feels like I’m living the dream – I’m getting to play hockey every day, and the academic schedule works well for me. The coaches are really the best – they care about us and our development, and they know what they are doing.”
Csaky-Schwede wants to play Division I college hockey eventually, but for now is focused on taking advantage of the unique opportunity afforded him at Tahoe Prep to advance his skills and become the best hockey player he can be.
“In the leagues we are competing in, the play is different,” he said. “It’s a lot faster here. I just want to get better, and I really feel that I have accomplished that here.”
Growing up in Santa Barbara, O’Dowd played everything from soccer and flag football to basketball, lacrosse and, of course, hockey. But hockey always held the top spot in his heart, and he had a decision to make after his freshman year and hockey season with the Valencia Flyers Bantam AA team came to a close last year.
Now a 15-year-old sophomore forward at Tahoe Prep, he felt like his hockey development had hit a dead end, so he began to look elsewhere.
“At the end of last year, I wasn’t sure where to play next,” O’Dowd said. “It didn’t seem like there were a lot of good options. Travel time to other teams was hard, and my freshman year playing hockey at this level wasn’t easy academically. I was able to make it work, but it was a challenge. TPHA seemed a lot more convenient to me having everything in one place with school and hockey. To be able to be on the ice five days a week was a big part of it too.”
O’Dowd had spent many summers visiting Lake Tahoe and participating in the Pro Ambitions Hockey Camps, so he and his family were familiar with the area. A trip to the TPHA dorms cemented his decision.
“My goal is to be able to make money playing hockey and to do that, I first need to play college hockey,” he said. “Right now, I’m focused on improving my skill set in pretty much every way and to have a shot of being on the prep team next year. It’s only been a few months, but there has been a noticeable difference in my skills.”
Finding a local at Tahoe Prep is rare simply because the school and hockey program is so attractive to student-athletes from across the U.S. and other countries, but Proctor is an exception. A 16-year-old junior defenseman on the academy’s varsity team, he grew up in South Lake Tahoe.
Proctor, now 6-foot-5, started playing hockey as a Mite with the Tahoe Grizzlies. He found success with his teams at the A and B level, winning two NorCal championships and one state championship. He said he is now focused on making it to the next level.
“What changed it for me was practicing with the coaches and realizing how good they are,” Proctor said. “I liked the higher level of play and I’ve enjoyed developing as a player. It’s been fun developing a brotherhood with both the prep and varsity players, and I think the strongest part of the program is the staff. They are helpful with whatever you need, and they care.”
Proctor, who carries a 3.75 grade-point average, said the blended academic schedule that includes online and classroom learning is also a major selling point for him.
“It really sets up well for the student athlete,” Proctor explained. “It allows you to develop in your sport while staying on top of your classes.”
A 17-year-old defenseman on the prep team, Kennedy is another South Lake Tahoe native who was drawn in by Tahoe Prep’s burgeoning reputation.
He played for the Golden State Elite Eagles for two seasons before joining TPHA. The senior said his ultimate goal is to play college hockey either at the Division I or Division III level. To make that happen, Kennedy said he is working on everything from stepping up his academic performance this year to putting in the time both on the ice and with strength and conditioning.
“I want to be good enough by the end to this year to not only be scouted by a junior team, but to be ready so that I can earn significant playing time in the junior league,” Kennedy said. “Academically, I really want to get a 4.0 my senior year to help raise my overall GPA.”
Kennedy said he has been impressed by Tahoe Prep’s growth since the academy first opened, and the exposure has been great for the program.
“I feel the program has just gotten a lot better, and (Coach) Mike (Lewis) is super serious about moving kids on to the next levels,” he said. “The coaches here care about you. Mike and Chris (Collins) care about your individual success – not just the team’s win-loss record.”
Kennedy said the addition of Barton’s Center for Excellence in the prep team’s training has also been a significant improvement to what Tahoe Prep offers its student-athletes.
“The best development is being on the ice every day and working out every day,” Kennedy said. “Our training at the center is lot more hockey focused. We work on all the of things we need to be better for our sport like agility and strength.”
A center on Tahoe’s prep team, Fleisher is in his first season at the academy after moving late this past summer from his family’s home in Dallas. The 17-year-old senior previously played for the McKinney North Stars and started looking at a number of different programs last year.
“It took coming and seeing the facilities and meeting the coaches to help me make the decision,” Fleisher admitted. “I knew I needed a change because my school wasn’t supporting me through hockey. I was missing a ton of school it was hard to keep my grades up.”
Academics are important to Fleisher because his hockey goals are centered around playing at the collegiate level.
“It’s not so much about playing hockey professionally for me,” Fleisher said, adding with a laugh that if he was drafted by an NHL team, he wouldn’t say no. “What I want is a free education. I want to be able to set myself up with a good education.”
TPHA’s prep team travel schedule has been just right for Fleisher
“It’s a lot more travel this year,” he said. “Personally, it’s been good for me. To be the best, you have to beat the best. I’m only going to get better if I push myself and it’s tough. I’m looking to try to go to the NAHL next year. It’s hard work, and I know I have to do this to get there.”
Fleisher said he knows Tahoe Prep’s training and conditioning are working through measurable results.
“Mike (Lewis) is on you,” he explained. “He expects better from you, better than you even expect of yourself, and Chris (Collins) is creative. He teaches you new moves and new ways to play the game. Realizing how much better you’re getting is refreshing.”
A native of El Segundo, MacNicoll is an 18-year-old post-grad who plays forward for the prep team. He was introduced to roller hockey at a young age and played for the LA Jr. Kings 18U AAA squad before making the jump to Tahoe. He is currently taking online courses from Lake Tahoe Community College and starting work on his degree.
MacNicoll was familiar with Lewis through private lessons he had taken with him in the Los Angeles area. He said THA’s development focus appealed to him on his road to playing juniors.
“I literally came up and here and it was just, ‘Wow,’” MacNicoll said. “The dorms and the facilities are just great, and you can’t beat the time on the ice. Since I’m doing online classes, I often practice with both the prep and varsity teams, and it’s helped my game a lot. I feel I’m getting more speed and stick handling skills.”
His improvement has showed up on the scoreboard. In the team’s last tournament, he scored 14 points in four games.
“The competition has been pretty good,” MacNicoll said of the team’s many trips. “Some games, I’m like, ‘This is hard,’ but the exposure is what you are looking for as a player.”
— Greg Ball
(Jan. 15, 2019)