Puck potential: Los Angeles Jr. Kings training camp highlights South Lake Tahoe’s promise as hockey destination
An elite junior hockey team from Southern California spent four days on the South Shore for its preseason training camp this week. And for Tahoe Sports and Entertainment, which operates South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena, it’s another piece in the process of turning South Lake Tahoe into a hockey destination.
“The exposure Tahoe is getting when these people post pictures and how that is virally expanding is amazing,” said Van Oleson, owner of Tahoe Sports and Entertainment. “We definitely see this as extreme marketing.”
The Los Angeles Jr. Kings 16-U AAA junior hockey team wrapped up its four-day training camp at SLT Ice Arena on Wednesday, Aug. 19. Seventeen of the top players in the West prepared for the upcoming season under the direction of head coach Jaroslav Modry, a 13-year NHL veteran.
“It’s a great place to be and it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to see Lake Tahoe and get away from everyday distractions,” Modry said. “It’s nice for the boys to get to know each other in a different environment.”
The Jr. Kings have never traveled for a preseason training camp before coming up to South Lake Tahoe this week. The team that was nationally ranked last year picked the South Shore, and brought a high level of youth hockey to the area.
“They don’t need to come here — they can go anywhere they want to go,” Oleson said. “For them to come here and do this really [illustrates] the respect Tahoe commands, and we think we can do a lot more of this.”
Jr. Kings parent Morgan Metcalfe said he never really considered South Lake Tahoe as a hockey destination. But that changed once he stepped inside SLT Ice Arena.
“I know Tahoe has great skiing, but I never really thought of it as an ice hockey town,” Metcalfe said. “I knew that there was ice up here, but I didn’t know how the facilities were. This is a top-notch facility.”
As hockey in the West continues to grow from the professional level all the way down to junior hockey, South Lake Tahoe has the potential to be part of that growth. And hosting the Jr. Kings’ training camp is just the latest example after a calendar year that featured WSHL hockey, the Pac-8 Championships, and the local Tahoe Grizzlies youth hockey program.
“Hockey is becoming a bigger mainstream sport,” Metcalfe said. “As the sport grows there’s so much potential — especially for a town like this to have more youth hockey teams involved.”
On the youth hockey level, one player on the Jr. Kings roster serves as an example of the caliber of the Grizzlies’ program. South Lake Tahoe native Jackson Oleson grew up playing hockey locally, and is one of a handful of local players heading outside the area to showcase their talent at a higher level this season.
“It’s awesome that I get to go play and represent Tahoe,” said Jackson Oleson, who will live in Southern California during the upcoming season. “We’ve got four or five guys from Tahoe that are leaving to play in really good places; it’s awesome that it’s really coming along and it’s pretty cool.”
Off the ice, the Jr. Kings hiked at Heavenly Mountain Resort, kayaked and paddleboarded in Lake Tahoe and spent time at beaches slightly different from those in Southern California during their stay on the South Shore. And their coach said the team bonded while appreciating all the area has to offer.
“It’s wonderful and a great place to be — it’s really unique,” Modry said. “That’s what’s amazing about California, it offers so much — you have the oceans, the lakes, the mountains and if you just know how to enjoy it it’s wonderful.”
Oleson said 71 percent of TSE’s revenues currently come from destination events such as the Jr. Kings camp, and that those events use only 10 percent of the arena’s ice time. He added that the money brought in from outside sources strengthens both the arena’s local programming along with the local economy.
“That leaves so much room and opportunities to develop our locals — it brings in the fuel that allows us to do more,” Oleson said. “We definitely see this as incubation of something we can do a lot more of [in the future].”