Seniors skate through final season, earn historic milestone for Cutthroats hockey

Half a country away, for one day every March, 18,000 people gather in celebration. At one time. In one place. For one day.

It’s the Minnesota Class A high school hockey state championship, and the game on hand is worthy of the honor. The game had just been tied with 30 seconds left in the 3rd, sending the game to overtime.

A senior sits under the lively stadium at ice level, with only a television displaying what is going on on the ice. Clang! Goes a well-shot puck off the post. You can hear the breath coming out of every pair of lungs in the building.

Shortly thereafter, the crowd erupts in an unmistakable, earth-shaking explosion. The game just ended. Someone just won a state championship. The television, on a ten-second delay, proves it.

That senior, his dreams just came true. He had played all the way through a hockey program that had just reached the pinnacle, right in time for him and his teammates to go out on top.

After a whirlwind five-hour bus ride, a coach sprang up before the triumphant team could jump out of their seats.

“You have just done something that will not be done for a very long time, if ever, again here in this town,” said the coach. “You are back-to-back state champions, and you must respect what that means, and we expect you to conduct your behavior, tonight especially, as a reflection of that.”

His words still stick with me to this very day. They cut to the core of being a hockey player, and the life lessons that come along with it.

He knew all along what we had just realized in that moment. It was never about the wins or the losses.

Facing Off

This is an experience that I wish every hockey player could have in his or her life, but the three Cutthroat hockey seniors of the 2021 high school team would be my pick.

Ben Adams, Luke Gentry, and Kamden Schroeder are the first players to play all the way through the Teton Valley Cutthroats program. The Cutthroats are administered through the Teton Valley Foundation.

Hockey in Idaho, especially Teton Valley, has always experienced an uphill battle. These boys couldn’t care less, and that’s why they are special.

“For me, it was like my winter was hockey,” said Adams. “That was my season, I played other sports, but during the winter I’d play hockey.”

“My favorite part of growing up through this has been to see it grow from what it was,” said Gentry.

What it was, was a program that was just getting off the ground. Formed just over a decade ago, the Cutthroats program is young by many standards. The high school team was formed just in 2018, less than 4 years ago.

Ben’s mother Shawn Adams summed it up well.

“We really had the chips stacked against us in those early years,” said Shawn Adams. ”I have pictures of us ‘zamboni’ing’ with a piece of plywood and shovels, getting snow off of the rink.”

With the lack of size and age of the program, the parents have been the ones running it.

“It is a lot of parent volunteers doing everything to make it run,” said Shawn Adams. “The parent committee we threw together because we realized as a group that wow, we have more things to consider and think about.”

First on the agenda was the need for ice time, which wasn’t a given due to Kotler’s natural refrigeration before having a cooling system, which was installed in 2017.

“Sometimes it would be that we wouldn’t get our first practice in until after Christmas,” said Adams.

The boys remember this all too well.

“We started with six practices a year, our locker room was a shipping container at one point,” said Gentry. “We didn’t have glass, we had chain fencing.”

When ice time became rare, the other players left.

“They fought through it and never jumped ship by going over to Jackson or somewhere else to be on a winning team,” said Shawn Adams. “They chose to make this a winning team.”

That would take a lot of time, dedication, and commitment from everyone involved. Good thing it came naturally to them.

“These are my people”

Being a hockey parent is every bit as much a commitment as actually playing. Hockey isn’t the easiest sport to schedule around, and it’s far from the cheapest.

“Your entire winter from early November to early March is going to be spent, almost every single weekend, in a rink somewhere,” said Adams. “When you’re looking at hotels and tournament fees and program fees, you have to be very committed.”

To get through it is certainly a group effort, as signified in the bonds the families made.

“I think that on my end the love came from the whole scene, especially because it is hard, it is expensive, and it is cold,” said Shawn Adams. “The gray hairs, it’s just from wanting so much for your kids. Ben, Camden, and Luke are best friends because they have been doing hockey together forever.”

Traveling, and the camaraderie that it creates, also brought the parents and players closer.

“Bonding with the parents and going to the tournaments and having the kids play in the hotel pool,” said Shawn Adams. “That’s exactly what fostered the love of the program”

“Hockey is a team sport, it’s a family,” said Gentry. “It’s different than other sports or outdoor sports, you don’t get the same kind of bond out riding a bike or skiing or hiking or whatever.”

That bond not only formed friendships but also kept them playing hockey. Schroeder and Gentry both took breaks from the sport before high school.

“These guys, my friends, got me back into playing it,” said Schroeder.

Of course, Ben Adams and Gentry gave Schroeder some tough love, especially since he played basketball those two years.

“He got his fair share,” they both said, laughing and looking at Schroeder.

“Over the years it progressed and became a different sport,” said Schroeder. “I liked it more and more, and these guys got me back into it after my two-year break and I just fell in love with how different and fast it is.”

Shawn Adams also experienced this, but in a different way with the parents. Last year five seniors graduated, and there was natural parent turnover after kids left the program.

“I wasn’t worried about ‘oh God where’s my hockey family,’” she said. “We’ve had three tournaments so far and it’s like ‘here it is, it’s right here’ with the freshman parents and the sophomore parents that I didn’t know very well. Our kids, just by virtue of hockey, came to love hockey.”

Lighting the Lamp

With the infancy of the program slowly but surely fading, competitiveness played an ever-increasing role in the success of the team.

The problem was, most of the other programs across the region had already gone through the early struggles and grown up to be quite competitive.

“My first high school game we lost 11-0, the next game was 13-0, they were just bad games,” said Schroeder.

The lack of successes sent some kids to play elsewhere, or to give up the sport completely.

“It should be said that I think that’s the reason a lot of the players quit or went over to Jackson,” said Ben Adams.

“Even within the four years that we’ve been playing high school our team and program have grown dramatically,” said Gentry. “We went from losing every single game to actually being competitive at tournaments.”

“We stuck with it and it’s cool to see the hard work pay off,” said Adams. “Last weekend we got third place at the Sun Valley tournament and in my freshman year we would have never even thought about getting that far.”

Those early drubbings not only motivated the players to learn more skills, but also gain an appreciation of how to play the game the right way.

“A lot of teams we play have poor sportsmanship,” said Adams. “We’ve kind of been there and we know what it’s like to lose.”

“I appreciate that we’re not a bunch of jerks out there making fun of people that are trying their best,” he continued.

Breaking Away

That mature mindset is a testament to the coaching the three seniors have had over their time with the Cutthroats program.

“I’ve played a lot of sports through high school, and hockey coaching is definitely different than all the other ones,” said Gentry. “It’s a lot more personal.”

The current High School coaches for the Cutthroats are Head Coach George Steiner, as wll as assistant coaches Davis Sebald and Crista Pentz.

Adams is thankful that the coaches have done things like taking phones away at team dinners.

“It might suck at the time, them telling you to give them your phone but after that you appreciate it, talking with your teammates and forming bonds that you usually don’t have the opportunity to make,” said Adams.

The transmission of these off-ice skills can be attributed to the toughness the sport requires, especially at the high school level.

“They’re a bit harder on us and it was just really cool to see that and how our coaches are not just building us into a team but also growing us into good all-around people,” said Schroeder.

“When we go out and leave this program we’ll have life skills to take with us and that’s really awesome,” he continued.

Keeping the team in mind, and not the individual, is a big strength of the coaching according to Adams.

“The coaches make us work together as a team, instead of individually,” said Adams. “It’s not just one person leading the pack, it’s everyone carrying the weight.”

“The person in the back is pushing everyone else forwards,” said Adams.

Just as important as the role of the coaching in developing maturity is the role of the parents, which all three can attest to.

“Maybe one tournament I’ve ridden with Ben, but other than that at least one of them has come to every single tournament which has been awesome,” said Gentry. “I’m glad that we get to start winning and it will be more entertaining for them.”

It says a lot that after giving hockey up for a couple of seasons, Schroeder’s parents supported him no matter what sport he played.

“They supported me all the way through and in whatever I do,” said Schroeder.

Perhaps the best-put response was from Adams.

“It’s unconditional support,” said Adams. “My parents, mainly my mom as she’s been there for us, even while we were losing. Now that we’re winning she told me it was hard to watch you guys lose because she knew the team and I have been putting everything I had into every game.”

It wasn’t just the belief that Adams’s mother and father had, but also the willingness to help make it happen no matter the outcome.

“Paying for those expenses just to watch us lose, they definitely realized that there was a bigger picture behind hockey than winning,” said Adams.

The rewards are something you just can’t put a value on.

“I made so many friends through this program and a lot of lessons in life about how to be a good person, a true person, as well as learning how to deal with responsibilities,” said Adams. “It taught me how to be a leader, and I couldn’t have done it without my parents support for hockey.”