Tahoe Prep quartet reflects on superb 2018-19 season
Summer is here, and the snowpack from Lake Tahoe’s near-record winter is melting.
And while that means winter is a distant memory, it doesn’t mean hockey is long forgotten.
At Tahoe Prep Academy, the sport occupies a prominent spot at the forefront of brain activity every day of the year.
With that in mind, here’s a look back at four players who made significant impacts during the 2018-19 season and are eagerly looking forward to returning to campus later this summer.
Moving from the East Coast to the Sierra Nevada nearly 3,000 miles west of his home made for a bit of culture shock for Umphrey, an 18-year old varsity defenseman from South Orange, N.J. He joined Tahoe Prep as a junior last year, leaving behind the New Jersey Devils youth program to come to the mountains and the promise of extended ice time.
In addition to playing for the varsity squad, he also got some minutes with Tahoe’s prep team.
“You can’t really beat the daily ice time you get here,” Umphrey said. “My skills have developed beyond anything I could have even perceived with my old team. In Tahoe, I have gained so much knowledge of the game.”
Umphrey said he has gone from a “pretty casual” player to a serious one under the tutelage of the Tahoe Prep coaches.
“They all know their stuff, so you can never really question what they have to say about a play, and it’s great to learn from three different perspectives,” he added.
Beyond the opportunity for extra ice time and enjoying the sport itself, Umphrey said his experience moving across the country has come with other benefits – including the travel and seeing more of the country.
“I had never been to California and never really been that far from home,” Umphrey said. “Tahoe is a special place for sure – just to get to live here is amazing. The brotherhood and the bonds you build in the program is also part of it. These are some of the best friends I’ll ever make, and I know they will be with me as we go on in life.”
On the far opposite side of the spectrum, Shemaykin came to Tahoe Prep Academy from … South Lake Tahoe. The 15-year-old freshman was able to stay close to home and get the best hockey and academic training. He started practicing with TPHA as an eighth grader, and thanks to a growth spurt and plenty of hard work, this year the young right-winger saw game time with the varsity team.
Shemaykin started playing hockey with the Tahoe Grizzlies as a second-year squirt and had success with his teams at the B level – winning a state championship as a first-year Bantam. Joining Tahoe Prep has given Shemaykin a chance to progress in his goal of playing higher-level hockey.
“My hockey goal is to make it to a Division I college hockey team, and to do that I know I have to improve my academics as well as my skills on the ice,” Shemaykin said. “This year my focus was on academics, and it was challenging, but I feel I’ve learned a lot, including respect for my coaches and teachers.
“My goal now is to play with the varsity team and work toward prep. To do that, I know I have to give 110 percent, be positive and have a good attitude. It’s all about the hard work you put in.”
Shemaykin said his parents are also pleased with his growth this year.
“They’re happy to see me succeed in hockey and academics,” he said.
A few hours northwest of Tahoe, the small college and farming town of Chico is where Bertagna grew up, but his route over the mountains to Lake Tahoe took him on a circuitous route through Canada. The 17-year-old junior started the 2018-19 school year at the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Rockland, Ont. He transferred to Tahoe in January.
“It just didn’t work for me because it felt like you didn’t get a life outside the academy there,” Bertagna said. “The schools and classroom were all inside the arena, plus the on-ice time was less. We had 50 minutes of practice four days a week in Canada.”
A former roller hockey player, Bertagna made the switch to ice in August 2018. He said he made the switch because he knew there were more professional opportunities in ice hockey.
“Ice hockey is more recognized compared to roller,” he said. “In switching over, using edges and learning the different rules like offsides were some of the biggest challenges.”
Bertagna said the Tahoe coaches’ experience converting roller hockey players to ice moved him along quickly.
“They are awesome at skill coaching, and they knew everything I needed to fix and were great at explaining it,” he said. “And they definitely care more about each individual player’s development.”
As for the move to Tahoe and the blended school schedule with South Tahoe High School, Bertagna said it is more his vibe.
“You get to go out and have a life and see people outside of the dorms,” he said. “I like the outdoors, and there are so many things to do here.”
A 19-year-old goalie originally from Portland, Ore., Birchill has also traveled a long road to find himself at Tahoe Prep.
He moved to Las Vegas during his junior year of high school to play for the Las Vegas Storm 16U AAA team. Birchill wanted to spend his senior year closer to home so he moved back to play for the Vancouver Jr. Rangers. Now as a post-graduate, he is still pursuing his hockey dream of playing juniors by playing at Tahoe Prep while taking online classes through Portland Community College.
Why did he settle on Tahoe Prep?
“It’s all hockey, all the time,” Brichill explained. “It’s a grind, but if you love it enough, it doesn’t feel like it.”
Birchill has always been a goalie from the age of 10 when he started playing hockey as a second-year Squirt because he liked the gear. While the adjustment to Tahoe from Washington was easy, being one of the older players on campus that took some adjusting.
“All along, I usually played up, so I was one of the younger players on the team,” he said. “It’s strange being the one that settles arguments now. I’ve matured so much since I came here. I’ve learned to take care of myself, do all my own things, and be more grown up about situations that I would have in the past. And when I come home, I do the dishes now. That’s kind of weird.”
Summertime camps on tap at Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy
Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy will be offering its first girls’ hockey camp July 8-12, before the boys training camp July 22-27. Players can choose to spend the week living in the academy’s dorms or attend as day campers, and the weeklong camps offer three hours of ice time daily, off-ice conditioning and training as well as fun activities in Tahoe’s outdoors.
The camps are based around the fundamentals of individual development. Each age group focuses on the intangibles associated with becoming a more confident and complete hockey player. Campers are provided with an intense, structured environment that enables them the ability to learn the finer aspects of skating, puck handling, passing, shooting, body contact, and beyond.
Players and parents can get more information and can register HERE.
— Greg Ball
(July 17, 2019)