It’s been an exciting time for Tahoe Prep Hockey Academy (THA), California’s only hockey prep school, located in South Lake Tahoe. THA’s focus is academic and athletic excellence with a geographic alternative on the West Coast, and so far it’s scoring a hat trick.
This season, its prep team finished third in the WPHL, and the varsity squad advanced to the championship game of the D1 Anaheim Ducks High School Hockey League (DHSHL) for the second year in a row.
“Last year was our first year in the league and we advanced all the way to the finals with no seniors,” noted Leo Fenn, THA co-founder, president and varsity head coach. “We are very proud of them.”
THA is in line to do more great things in the 2018-2019 as they were named an inaugural team to the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Prep League for the upcoming season. The Prep league is under the umbrella of the NAHL, one of the top junior hockey leagues in the US which also operates the NAPHL, NA3HL, Combines, and Future Prospects Tournaments. With their inclusion into the NAHL Prep League, THA's athletes will get a chance to compete in three high-profile showcases a year. The showcases give each team 12 totals games to play in front of scouts and live on HockeyTV, giving THA's players more exposure than ever before.
“It’s very exciting for THA and our athletes,” Fenn said. “They’ll be seen by all the top scouts in the country on a regular basis. It’s the best exposure in the country.”
THA is also proud to announce its affiliation with the Potomac Patriots of the United States Premier Hockey League (USPHL). The agreement begins immediately, with THA participating in USPHL Showcases at the U18 AAA level this fall. Its players will have the opportunity to experience Junior hockey with the inclusion of selected players being added to the roster of the Patriots’ Junior teams.
“The Patriots will have the opportunity to evaluate some of our high-end players in their practices and games, while our THA players are provided a true experience of life in Junior hockey,” stated THA director and prep team head coach Mike Lewis, who has coached teams to two USA Hockey National Championships at the Tier I level, plus 11 additional appearances in the National Championships. Lewis also founded the California Wave hockey franchise and was featured in the 2006 hockey documentary "In the Crease".
It’s no wonder THA and its teams are achieving success so quickly. The Academy’s hockey training is based on its Circle of Success. It offers an assessment of each player’s skill set, breaking down the components of their playing characteristics by video analysis, with detailed instruction on proper technique or reinforcement of positive habits, along with one-on-one instruction.
“Our student-athletes have approximately two and a half years of development in one year as opposed to a similar AAA program,” Fenn said, who brings more than 14 years of coaching experience with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks, LA Jr. Kings and Serra Catholic High School, with two appearances in the USA Hockey National Championships.
Along with its experienced coaches, THA has several former NHL players on its advisory board including NHL All-Star and Hall of Famer Teemu Selänne as well as Guy Hebert (also director of goaltender development), Brandon Convery, Jeff Odgers and Jay More.
“We welcome their input as we are constantly evolving and looking to improve on our previous year,” Fenn said. “They provide unlimited valuable input to the program.”
Fenn pointed out that while most prep-school teams play a “short” hockey season, THA teams play a Tier 1, eight-month season. “We’re one of the few prep schools to do so,” he said.
While THA offers top-level hockey training, its guiding mission is to prepare, guide and support the development of high school student-athletes with fully accredited NCAA college-preparatory academics.
“There is a concentration on developing the student-athlete and assisting them on getting into college,” Fenn said, stressing that academics are just as important as hockey, with enrollees spending four to five hours per day on their coursework.
To that end, THA has partnered with Lake Tahoe Unified School District, with classrooms available at nearby South Tahoe High School (STHS) and a certified teacher in each one. This will enable Academy students to be at STHS together as well as having social interaction with the other 1,100 students. Online classes are also offered in a “blended learning” environment. All students must maintain a 3.0 GPA to remain active status on the roster as the Academy staff works diligently to oversee a player’s academic progress on a weekly basis. All players are required to participate in mandatory study halls during travel and road games throughout the season.
While THA is firing on all cylinders, getting it up and running wasn’t easy.
It was an experience―like climbing Mount Everest, to be honest,” Fenn recalled. “There was the designing, building, getting project approvals, getting 20 student-athletes to attend and get a team―all in six months.”
To top it off, South Lake Tahoe had its worst snow storm in 20 years, which delayed the dorms being built. But the new students made out well—they ended up staying in a converted luxury home the Academy bought, which includes an indoor pool, before eventually moving into the dorms.
Now, “The kids are really excited with the dorms,” Fenn said of the impressive-looking residence halls, noting that the original housing for the students will be converted again for upcoming freshmen, where they will transition into the dorms when their sophomore year begins.
When Fenn, Michael Lewis (athletic director) and Mike Sechrist (executive director) founded THA, they saw a need for a hockey-based prep school based in the West Coast. They had been in the youth hockey world for 15 years and thought that there could be a better way for players to reach higher levels of hockey without leaving the Golden State. Their hunch is paying off. Fenn noted that half of their enrollees are from California. Those young men would have had to travel away from their home state to attend a hockey prep school. Add that to time spent on traveling to practices, games and tournaments while trying to fit in their schoolwork, it’s a win-win for the student-athletes and parents.
“It is one of our best selling points to parents; it is a luxury that they benefit from,” Fenn said. “Parents compare us with other prep schools; now, [students-athletes] can come here on the West Coast.”
The rest of the enrollees are coming from nearby states and beyond, with positive word-of-mouth spreading. “It’s been phenomenal,” Fenn said of the feedback from the student-athletes. But there was one parent whose comment sums up THA.
"He finished walking through the dorms,” Fenn recalled, “then he declared, ‘You’ve built Disneyland for hockey players!’”
To get more information visit TahoeHockeyAcademy.com.
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