Captain’s trio leaving lasting legacy with Grizzly hockey
When you’ve been around someone or something long enough, that someone or something becomes like family to you. For the Glenwood Grizzlies’ three senior captains — Mathew Thrun, Travis Leahy and Billet Porter — the Grizzly hockey organization has become a comfort zone and sense of home and family.
Sadly, all of that will soon come to an end for the trio, as their distinguished careers wearing the black, purple and white of the Grizzlies will come to a sudden close at the end of this season.
“I’ve always been around this, so it feels like a family to me,” Porter said. “Growing up in hockey like this has been an amazing experience for me, because it has taught me how to be a good person, and it’s great to represent Grizzly Hockey.”
For all three, the Grizzly organization has been a staple of their hockey careers, dating back to early childhood when they first slipped on the skates and became members of the upstart organization right here in the valley. In fact, they are part of one of the first groups of players to progress from first-year squirts all the way through the program to Midget 18U A, correlating with the Grizzlies jumping from a house league (b level) to the recreation travel level (a).
During that progression, the trio of captains said that they played on quite a few losing teams and went through some difficult seasons with loss after loss, but the senior captains can now look back on that time and laugh, considering what they’ve accomplished with the Grizzlies since coming of age.
There have been a number of tournament championships that Leahy, Thrun and Porter have been part of, but the two most important wins for the trio was the 2015-16 state championship, which is celebrated with a banner hanging in “The Cave” at the Glenwood Rec Center Ice Rink, as well as the recent win over the Aspen Skiers in the Roaring Fork Valley Challenge Cup over the holidays.
“That’s going to be my best memory [beating Aspen] from the 14 years I’ve been in the Grizzly organization,” Leahy, who attends Glenwood Springs High School, said. “We know a lot of the kids and have been playing against them for a long time. The fact that they are a varsity-level team and we’re not yet meant a lot to us, because it showed we could compete at the CHSAA level. To win that game in overtime like we did was really cool.”
The Grizzlies were supposed to have a varsity hockey program through Yampa Mountain this season after coming to an agreement with the Colorado High School Activities Association, but the organization that oversees all Colorado high school activities changed its hockey bylaws, throwing a wrench into the Grizzlies’ plans.
“That one definitely stings,” Leahy said prior to a recent practice. “We have shown over the last few years that we’re good enough to compete at that level.”
Although unable to compete at the varsity level, the trio played a key role in helping the Grizzlies go from an upstart program in a mountain town to one of the most consistent youth programs in the state of Colorado, from the Bantam A level all the way down to squirts.
A lot of commitment and development went into the organization, making it what it is today, but the early part of their careers isn’t lost on three captains.
“It was definitely hard to stick with it at times growing up because the losses were hard, but we just stayed together as a group,” Thrun, who also attends GSHS, said. “We managed to push through those tough times together and come out on the other side of it better off. It was a great lesson for us then to stick with it no matter what. The camaraderie kept us going. Knowing that we were a part of something special was what kept most of us around and working towards a similar goal.
“What we’ve done here is something we’re definitely proud of, but we don’t feel like we’re done yet.”
Aside from on-ice accolades, the trio has helped create a good atmosphere off the ice. Porter, who attends Coal Ridge High School, helped form the “Pink the Rink” night each year.
Pink the Rink was designed to help raise awareness for breast cancer in support of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Not only do spectators show up wearing pink on the night, they also bring pink treats to share. Along with fans in the stands, Glenwood players and even the officials wear pink during the event, with all proceeds donated to the Susan G. Komen foundation. This year, the Grizzly Pink the Rink night was Jan. 20.
It’s rare for a young athlete like Porter to go out of his or her way not only to donate to a foundation, but to create an entire event outright two years ago. For Porter, it was something that just needed to be done.
“I wanted to make it a tradition because I have four sisters and have four extremely important women in my life,” Porter said. “I wanted them to know that, but I also wanted to make a difference.”
Consider that a job well done for all three senior Grizzly captains, on and off the ice.
The Midget 18U A Grizzlies, under the leadership of Leahy, Thrun and Porter, will return to action Feb. 11 against the CRHL Frazier Midget A team.