New Kids on the Ice

By Matt David

Cody Enterprise Staff Writer

Frank Morris and Lucas Thatcher have spent the majority of their young lives on the ice, playing  hockey.  So it’s  no surprise that the sport would bring them from the Denver metro area to Cody.

But not only are they new editions to the Yellowstone Quake, they’re both new seniors at Cody High School.

“I didn’t really like the high school I was going to anyway,” Morris said, who is from Arvada, Colo. “So it wasn’t a big deal to make the move here.”

“The transition from a bigger school to a smaller one has been different,” added Thatcher, who is from Parker, Colo.

During the summer, the two hockey players were spotted at a tryout hosted by the Quake in Arvada.

Head coach Joe Cardarelli approached both to see if they wanted to play for the Quake, and the process of  getting them here began.

“In hockey, it’s common for players to take a step like this,” Cardarelli said. “Rather than being the oldest player on a high school team, they get to practice with guys that are going to push them to develop more than if they were already a big fish in a small pond.”

Junior hockey exists to give amateur players, ages 16-20, the opportunity to develop their skills before playing at the collegiate level or professionally.

There are three tiers of junior hockey in the country. The U.S. Hockey League is at the top, and the North  American Hockey League is the Tier II division.

The Quake’s Northern Pacific Hockey League is one of 12 Tier III divisions in the country.

This season Thatcher, who is a goalie, and Morris, a defenseman, will get the opportunity to work on their skills outside of club and high school teams.

And transferring schools during their senior year, shows their commitment to the game.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

During the season, the boys are staying at the Cody home of Nyla Brotherton.

The Brotherton family has hosted Quake players since last season, and this year, with two kids of her own at CHS, she requested high school-aged players.

“They all get along wonderfully,” she said. “They (Frank and Lucas) fit in like they’ve been here forever.

“The only difference is that now we go through a bit more food now.”

Quake players, who aren’t residents of Park County, live with host families during the season. For younger players, this can balance the transition of life away from home.

When Morris and Thatcher aren’t at hockey practice or busy with schoolwork, the boys help with  chores around the house – doing dishes, taking out the trash and keeping their rooms relatively clean.

“Things we’d do back home,” Thatcher said.

And Brotherton can’t complain.

“They’re wonderful young men,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about these two.”

Brotherton’s two kids play hockey for the Ice Cats, Cody’s youth hockey team, and her husband is a fan, so dinnertime conversations sometimes turn to discussions about the sport.

“My husband is a huge Colorado Avalanche fan,” she said. “And last season, the two guys were big Detroit Red Wings fans. So there won’t be as much rivalry around the house this season.”

NEW KIDS ON CAMPUS

For the new CHS seniors, school is as important as hockey.

“Academics is a big priority for us,” Cardarelli said. “I coached at the collegiate level, and our assistant coach is an education major, so it’s part of who we are as coaches.

“You could be the greatest player, but if you don’t have the academics, your opportunities are limited.”

Recent Quake alumni have gone on to play at collegiate hockey programs throughout the country. Alumni from last season are playing at Oakland University now.

And for Morris and Thatcher, college is in the back of their minds. Keeping up with schoolwork during the season was a concern for both.

“CHS definitely respects our team,” Thatcher said. “They make sure we can keep up with classes when we’re on the road.”

Now, as the season gets into gear, the boys are going to have to balance their senior-year studies with nightly practices and games. But that’s nothing new.

“I used to do two hours of hockey a night, so it’s just about finding the time.” Morris said.

“Once you get into the groove, it gets easier,” Thatcher added.

HOME AWAY FROM HOCKEY

As for the boys’ parents, it’s been tough not having them around the house. And as seniors in high school, the move was that much more difficult.

“It’s different,” Thatcher’s mother Diane said about not having her son at home. “But with talking on the phone and texting, we’re in contact every day.”

 Morris’ mom Wendy agreed.

“I miss him a ton,” she said.

At the end of the summer, when the boys signed Quake contracts, both families came to Cody to visit, which made the process easier.

“Everyone in Cody was so nice and it put me at ease,” Wendy Morris said. “I knew he would be fine.

Now being parents, for the most part, takes place online or over the phone. Keeping tabs on their sons’ grades is as easy as accessing CHS’s online parent portal, and after-school conversations
now take place over the phone.

The distance also is eased by knowing that their sons are in Cody striving for their dreams.

“My parents knew I had to be here to play at a higher level,” Morris said.

PRACTICE BEGINS

As hockey practice gets into full swing, Morris and Thatcher are getting more time on the ice.

And they’re both holding their own at practice.

“They don’t look at us as rookies,” Thatcher said.

The season officially starts Oct. 5 with a road trip to Oregon to face the Southern Oregon Spartans.

It’s another hockey season in their young careers.