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Hockey Hopefuls Gather at Hertz

Matterhorn Fit photo 3.png
Players face off at the Matterhorn Fit All-Ivy Showcase

Entering the Hertz Arena from the 90-degree heat and full humidity of a Southwest Florida summer day, the first thing I noticed was the coolness inside the hockey rink. The Zamboni hummed by, smoothing out the surface of the ice.

Then I saw a trail of high school-aged boys, thin, gangly, and not particularly tall. Each one had a bag nearly as big as he is, stuffed full of equipment, slung over one shoulder. The boys had hopeful looks on their faces. They were here at the Hertz Arena in Estero for the Matterhorn Fit All-Ivy ice hockey showcase. It was their chance to play in front of Division 1 college coaches.

The 216 players were sorted into teams to play against each other under the watchful eye of 11 coaches from colleges including several Ivy League schools. There was also a coach from the Florida Panthers, the professional team in Miami.

The parents watching from the bleachers look relatively relaxed. Most of their faces didn’t betray the effort they’ve put in to give their kids this opportunity. Just for this showcase, they’ve traveled from all over the country—and internationally—to southwest Florida.

Dave O’Keefe and his son Jason McKee came from Orange County, California.

“Being on the west coast, it’s a little difficult, we have to travel a lot to the east coast, but to have it all combined in one event, it’s a no-brainer, it’s a can’t-miss event,” he said.

Tony and Sandra Atkins live just outside Toronto. Their 16-year-old son Owen played this year for a school in upstate New York, crossing the border so he could play his sport, as games in Canada were shut down because of COVID-19.

“He moved away from home last year during COVID and was in Hoosac, outside of Albany,” said Tony.

His father says he got home just once all year—for Christmas.

The athletes themselves put in a lot of effort too, of course, in the hope of reaching their dream of playing division 1 hockey.

Hank Cleaves is a player from Riverside, Connecticut.

“This summer I’m working out with kids from my school, with our coach, four times a week,” Cleaves says.

Skating practice starts in September and games will go nearly through the whole school year.

But it’s not all work. The Cornell University pep band flew down to lend some atmosphere to the games. They warmed up inside the arena.

And it’s not all hockey either. The event stresses that athletes need to make the grade academically as well as athletically.

Nan Knisely came from Middleburg, Virginia with her 16-year-old son Mac, who’s headed to boarding school in Connecticut this fall

“For us, hockey is education and sports. So, that’s why he’s going to boarding school and ultimately we’d love for him to go to a high academic and hockey program,” she said.

Former NHL player Ryan Vesce created the event, and he explains what’s in it for athletes.

“They get direct access to the best schools; they get the ability to be recruited and interact with those university coaches. For the coaches, they get a pool of players that have the academic credentials to get into their universities, so it makes it a lot easier for them to recruit. And for the families, we did coaches’ presentations from all the Ivy League schools, so they have the ability to learn about the process and really help guide their children, so they’re more informed today than they were yesterday.”

Vesce says he already has the arena booked for next spring, when no doubt another group of hopeful young ice hockey players will come in from the heat to show what they’ve got on the ice in southwest Florida.

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