Overall development continues to be top priority at Tahoe Prep
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If it seems like the 2019-20 academic year and hockey season are already well under way, it may be because the prep and varsity teams at Tahoe Prep Academy look like polished professionals on the ice.
In reality, we’re about halfway through the season, and with Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas just around the corner, the meat of the season is on the horizon, and expectations are once again high at Tahoe Prep.
While game results are the most tangible measure of the program’s success, the coaches and players are making incremental gains each and every day, and with players getting on the ice nearly every day while also having access to top-notch off-ice conditioning and unique classroom and online learning, athletic and academic development is at the forefront.
Here’s a look at five players already making an impact and making the most of their Tahoe Prep experience.
Anyone who knows the basics of Southern California geography realizes that Palm Springs and Los Angeles are not exactly next door to each other. So the commute from his home in the Coachella Valley to the coast three or four days a week to practice and play with the Los Angeles Jr. Kings quickly wore Palmersheim down.
The 16-year-old junior traded in those five-hour round trips for a dormitory on the campus of Tahoe Prep, and can now channel more of his time and energy into hockey training with the prep team and his studies.
His day begins with hockey practice, and that was just what he was looking for when he decided to make the move to Tahoe Prep Academy.
“The idea of surrounding yourself and indulging in hockey with coaches and players and a team of people supporting me was very attractive,” Palmersheim said.
“As soon as I got up here, I was kind of star-struck. When I toured, there was snow on the ground, and it’s just so different from the desert that I’m used to. Now that I’m here, I would say it’s even more than I expected. I’ve never had a coach that is so focused on making us better every single day, and there’s never any question on what their intentions are. Knowing that pushes you to do your best. It just doesn’t compare to anything in SoCal.”
Palmersheim has started the season strong with four goals and two assists in the team’s North American Prospects Hockey League (NAPHL) games, and two assists in the team’s first weekend in the East Coast Elite League (ECEL).
“Ben is very crafty and creative with a great ability to create offense,” said prep head coach Chris Collins. “He dominated in his 15U league with his accuracy and since coming to us, his speed has gone up as well as his point production.”
“You can definitely tell the difference in the size and speed playing in those leagues,” Palmersheim added. “That was another reason that drove me here – I wanted to separate myself from kids my own age. I like it even though it’s a bigger challenge.”
Palmersheim also said his grades are also top notch, as he finished the first term with a straight-A report card.
“That part is key,” he said. “With all of our travel, we’re able to take our core classes online and electives face to face, and the teachers have been very supportive to make sure we don’t fall behind.”
A friend of Palmersheim’s since elementary school, Bowman also made the move from the desert (he grew up in Palm Desert) to Tahoe this season. A 17-year-old senior on the prep team, he most recently played for the California Wave’s 16U AA team, based from home in the Los Angeles suburbs.
The right winger is working toward gaining a spot on a junior team roster next year, with the ultimate goal of earning an NCAA Division I college scholarship.
“Between the daily practices, individual attention, and the leagues we play in, I felt this was the right step in my development,” Bowman said. “I feel that I’m a better player after just two months. I feel stronger due to the training at the Center for Excellence three times a week, and my hockey is improving. Here, you have more individual focus. If the coaches see a weakness, they will pull you aside and work on it. The practices are a good balance between individual and team skills.”
The transition to living in the dorms was also a little easier for both Bowman and Palmersheim due to their longstanding friendship. The two are now roommates in the Tahoe Prep dorm.
“You learn a little more independence,” Bowman said. “We have to do our own laundry and stuff, but it’s also a little like living in the giant hotel room filled with your best friends. One of the coolest things about our trips is the team bonding. Even just the layovers hanging out at airports, and we try to catch a couple junior team games each trip.”
Bowman said he is also enjoying the high competition level. He has posted three goals and five assists in NAPHL games and registered five points in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL) with Tahoe Prep’s varsity team.
“Our schedule this year is rigorous,” he said. “Playing better competition will ultimately make us better players, and with the better teams that we play, there are more scouts.”
“Ian has a really good sight for creating offense,” Collins said. “He applies what we work on almost instantaneously.”
Balancing hockey development, academic progress and life outside of those two isn’t easy, but Turner, a 16-year-old junior forward from Eagle, Colo., feels he has found just that at Tahoe Prep.
After leaving home last year to pursue his hockey dream and play for the Pursuit of Excellence Elite 15 in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League (CSSHL), he found that it wasn’t all that he had hoped for.
“I wanted to be closer to home, but also be able to get on the ice and work out every day,” Turner said of his decision to make the move to Tahoe. “Also, the academic support wasn’t as strong at my last school. At Tahoe Prep, everyone involved with the program also cares about the students’ academic achievement.”
The academic focus at Tahoe Prep fits well with Turner’s college goals.
“I really want to play juniors, but more importantly, I want to earn a college scholarship,” he said. “The day here is a bit longer, but that’s because of the focus on academics. I’m really enjoying the high school and all my teachers.”
After playing a 15U season in the CSSHL and a 16U season in the NAPHL, Turner said the competition the team is facing this year is comparable, but moving up to 18U has brought new lessons. Still, Turner has found success, notching three goals and two assists in the team’s eight NAPHL games.
Turner said he has confidence in the Tahoe Prep coaching staff.
“They really know what they’re talking about,” he said. “We’ve had a few tiny breakdowns, but we just need to apply what they’ve been teaching us.”
Collins had nothing but praise for Turner.
“Zach asked the right questions and really listens, and he has an amazing shot,” Collins said. “Watching him fall into more of a skill game has been really fun. He’s a tremendous worker on and off the ice, and he’s another academic leader.”
Ever since Dunkel was a Bantam with the Burbank Bears, he had his eyes set on wearing a Tahoe Prep sweater. The 15-year-old sophomore center is in his first season playing with Tahoe’s varsity squad this year and said the experience has exceeded even his lofty expectations.
“I wanted to have more experience, a better skill set, and play at a higher level, but my parents weren’t ready last year for me to live away from home,” Dunkel said, adding that coming to Tahoe for a hockey prep school and being closer to home was another benefit.
Transitioning to dorm life, a new school, and the competition of the ADHSHL has been a lot to take in for Dunkel.
“The first game was really hard,” he said. “I’m good at edge work, but I’m working on more balance and staying on the puck. The coaching here is very much one-on-one. They are great at working on what you need to improve on as a player. I feel more confident with the puck now. My goal this year is to be able to move up to the prep team.”
For Csaky-Schwede, returning to Tahoe Prep for a second academic year and hockey season this fall felt very much like coming home. A junior goalie for the varsity team originally from Victoria, British Columbia, Csaky-Schwede said it’s also closer to his family now in Palo Alto.
“I feel like last year we did really well – the team bonded, and I made a lot of friends, and I’m looking to build on that this year,” he said. “I’ve already gone through that adjustment period of living away from home. Living with your team, you really bond with people. I’ve made some of my best friends here.”
Csaky-Schwede said he’s also advancing as a goalie through his individual time with Tahoe Prep’s goalie coach.
“I’m improving my skills playing the puck and how I move off the post,” he explained. “My ultimate goal is to play juniors in Canada, and I feel through my work at Tahoe Prep, I’ve got a pretty good plan to get there. Anyone who comes here and is really dedicated to becoming better at hockey will succeed just because of the way the schedule is organized.”
— Greg Ball
(Dec. 11, 2019)