Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy student-athletes surging toward continued success
Daylight savings time has begun, and temperatures are starting to warm up at the base of the mountains in Lake Tahoe.
As the 2018-19 hockey season winds down and the final few months of the academic year are upon us, there’s plenty to be excited about at Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy.
Here are a half-dozen players who have made a significant impact with Tahoe Prep this season:
Pustovoy’s journey to Tahoe Prep started in Russia, took him through Sacramento and eventually landed him along the emerald green shores of the lake bordering California and Nevada.
He moved from his home country to California’s capital when he was four and played travel hockey with the Capital Thunder in nearby Roseville. The 18-year-old forward on Tahoe’s prep team is in his second year at the school. A post-graduate player, Pustovoy said his experience traveling around the United States and playing against top teams has helped not only his hockey skills, but also with preparation for his next move. He is in the process of choosing a college.
“I’ve been accepted to Arizona State and Cal State Long Beach so far,” Pustovoy said. “It would be fun to go to a college with a club team so I can keep playing.”
He said his travel hockey experience at home was nothing but positive. However, he reached a point where his coaches encouraged him to seek opportunities to play at a higher level.
“Tahoe was close to home and offered the chance to travel around the U.S. and get experience playing against top teams,” Pustovoy said. “It was a great decision. It took a lot for my parents to send me here, but they’re happy that it opened up doors for me.”
Pustovoy said there will be games from his time at Tahoe Prep that he will never forget, like when the squad beat International Hockey Academy 3-2 in overtime this season.
A 16-year-old defenseman on Tahoe’s varsity team, Escobar is in his first year as a student-athlete in Tahoe after relocating from Ventura, Calif. He most recently played at the AA level for the Valencia Jr. Flyers, but his home rink was more than an hour’s drive each direction, and the time required was more than really made sense.
“Playing AA hockey in Southern California became so much you couldn’t make it work,” Escobar explained. “All the traveling to practice and games, and you still had homework. At TPHA, you can make the hockey work and not be overwhelmed with homework. The blended academic schedule of online learning and face-to-face classes is better, and I had a 3.8 grade point average last semester.”
Escobar is also doing well on the ice, having totaled 11 points in the regular season in the Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (ADHSHL), with five goals and six assists. He said that after graduating from Tahoe Prep, he wants to play either junior or college hockey.
“No one in my family had ever played hockey,” Escobar said. “I just did it once and I loved it. I want to play competitively as long as I can.”
He said his time at Tahoe Prep has resulted in noticeable changes in his game.
“I’m a better positional player, and my speed has increased,” he said. “I just want to keep developing – getting better as player, person, and as a student.”
When his hockey career is over, Escobar said he would like to follow in his father’s footsteps and study fire science to become a firefighter.
A sophomore on Tahoe’s varsity team, Bennett comes to TPHA by way of Salt Lake City, Utah. The 15-year-old is in his first academic year and hockey season at Tahoe Prep, and made the decision to leave his hometown behind to help him pursue his dreams of playing college hockey.
“I came to improve my skills and hockey IQ,” Bennett explained. “This first season has really been a breaking point for me. It’s shown me where I should be in my hockey career and where I could be. The game is a lot faster than what I was used to. It took me from one practice a week to five days on the ice. We have more time on the ice, and all the coaches bring certain skill sets. It’s nice to hear from different perspectives. The coaching staff is really supportive. When I came here it really felt like home.”
Despite a tough 4-2 loss to the Santa Margarita Eagles in the playoffs, Bennett said he felt it was one of the varsity team’s better games of the season.
“Even though it stinks losing, we kind of all stayed together as a family and worked until the final buzzer. We never let off the gas,” Bennett said, adding that he’s already thinking of next season. “Next year, I really want to step up my game and make my skills faster and better.”
He said that he is also improving academically.
“Moving away from home has made me more mature,” Bennett said. “School is now the No. 1 priority, and the online classes have been better for me in understanding the material.”
An 18-year-old senior goalie, Kitchen recently completed his second season on the varsity team at Tahoe Prep.
Originally from Anaheim, Calif., he was familiar with the ADHSHL as he had played in the league during his time at Orange Lutheran High School.
Kitchen said his decision to move to Tahoe was all about pursuing a career in Junior A hockey, which he hopes to use as a stepping stone to playing college hockey. An only child, Kitchen admitted that moving into the dorms was a challenge at first.
“Having to share, having a roommate, it was all very different,” he said. “But then you get used to it.”
His performance on the ice hasn’t showed any signs of homesickness, though. In 14 games in the ADHSHL, he compiled an .827 save percentage, facing 202 shots on goal.
Moving to Tahoe prep was easier for Krueger, a 17-year-old senior defenseman on Tahoe’s prep team because a former teammate of his with the DYHA Jr. Sun Devils, Austin Chesworth, also made the move north for the 2018-19 school year and hockey season. Krueger said having a close friend by his side made the move easier, it also helped that he started his season off contributing to some big wins.
“In my first game with the team in Minnesota, I got my first goal for the season, and then the next game, I got the game-winning goal in overtime. Everyone thought I was god after that,” Krueger joked. “But they would soon learn I really wasn’t.”
The Boise, Idaho, native said he learned about Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy during a camp in Las Vegas.
“Coach (Chris) Collins was the first one to see me,” Krueger recalled. “I really liked what they were telling me about being on the ice every day, and strength conditioning every day. The structure of it appealed to me. My goals were to get smarter with the game and learn the positioning more. The THA coaches have helped me a lot with that. I also wanted to get bigger in the gym, and I’ve gained quite a few pounds.”
Krueger said he would like to play juniors, college, and then, if possible, in the NHL. He is interested in commercial aviation and firefighting, and right now, he is focused on laying the groundwork for his future.
“I used to struggle with school, but this year I went up to a 3.5 GPA,” he said. “I think the structure of the academy has helped me a lot. You definitely have a lot more responsibility and you just have to be more on top of things.”
After two seasons playing at Tahoe Prep, Schwarm has punched his ticket to the next level of hockey. The 18-year-old senior forward on Tahoe’s prep team recently committed to play for the New England Wolves, a Tier III junior team based in Laconia, N.H., in the Eastern Hockey League.
Schwarm moved to Tahoe from Westerville, Ohio, and before Tahoe, he attended and played hockey for St. Charles Preparatory School in Columbus, Ohio.
“When we came to visit Tahoe, it was unbelievable to see what THA had built, and Tahoe is amazing,” Schwarm recalled. “The selling point for me was how the academy could help me get better with the ice time and exposure to better competition. And the competition level was just as they promised.”
Schwarm comes from a family of athletes. His mother played college golf, and his father was a rugby athlete at Ohio University. Schwarm would like to play hockey at the college level and study sports management and law.
“I’m a good corner player and passer. I have good passing IQ,” Schwarm said, when asked to describe his strengths. “Coach Mike (Lewis) has really helped push me. The coaches help you see where you can rise – especially when I was down and I wasn’t playing well. Coach Chris helped with my hands and improving my skills. The result was I definitely accomplished my goals this year. I got signed by a team and improved my game.”
— Greg Ball
(April 16, 2019)