The winter seasons for high school sports are done, giving way to the outdoor sports of spring.
But we did not want to let winter pass without recognizing a group of athletes who just put away their skates for the year.
The Durango Devils, a club composed of high-school-age hockey players from La Plata County, just missed out on crowning their season with a New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League title. The local boys were beaten by the Cibola Cougars in Albuquerque, but that loss was just an unfortunate footnote to a great season.
Led by NMIIHL Coach of the Year Drew Kensinger — in his 12th and final year as a coaching volunteer — the team put together a 14-2 regular season. The record reflects not just talent, but years of teamwork on the ice. Most of these boys first played together as elementary school students. Their coach at the time? Kensinger.
He is, said Devil defenseman Eno Ulshafer, more like family than a coach by now. “He’s like a tough older brother to us.”
Ulshafer, an Animas High School senior, was named the league’s top defenseman and Durango High School senior Robby Grogan was named the top goaltender. DHS junior Landen Sill trumped them both by being named NMIIHL Most Valuable Player, but like Ulshafer and Grogan — and like league all-stars Jake Beekman (AHS senior), Joe Lawton (DHS junior) and Sam Kidd (DHS senior) — Sill gives all credit for his success, including 28 regular season goals, to his teammates.
That team dedication alone marks the Devils as something refreshingly different. So does their parents’ devotion to their sons. As the northern outlier in a sprawling league that includes the Amarillo Big Texan Bulls, the Permian Basin Pump Jacks from Odessa as well as teams from Santa Fe, Taos and Los Alamos, the Devils and their fans put in the hours and miles away from Chapman Hill’s home ice without benefit of a team bus.
If we had ice on the office floor, we could tap out a salute with hockey sticks. Words will have to suffice: Great job, gentlemen.