Ralston Valley coach Matt Schoepflin witnesses the same trend every season. In an age where the already-pricey sport of hockey keeps getting pricier, talented and motivated young players are missing out on opportunities because the game, in ways that include team fees and equipment, is becoming cost prohibitive.
“I’ve had a lot families whose kids have played AAA in the past, but they just can’t afford it anymore,” Schoepflin said. “That made me realize hockey’s always been expensive, but in the last decade, it’s only gotten more expensive. I’m always exposed to different individuals and families that struggle financially to make our payments, or that need to be on payment plans.
“It got me to thinking that if there’s a way to give back and help out a little bit, I should do it.”
From that concern, Boost Hockey was born.
The non-profit T-shirt company that launched last Tuesday is a “hockey for a cause” movement, where every two weeks, Schoepflin works with a local player in need of financial help. Together they create a custom T-shirt to sell and the player’s campaign runs for two weeks, with 15 percent of the profits going straight to the player.
Schoepflin hopes to raise around $1,500 for each player; interested players can apply for assistance online and also benefit from cash donations on the site during their campaign. From those needing more money, from travel teams to players who are simply down on their luck — as is the case for the beneficiary of the first campaign, former Ralston Valley star Tony Salazar — Boost Hockey aims to keep young players on track toward their goals on the ice, and in stable situations off of it.
Salazar’s hardship hits particular close to home for Schoepflin, who coached the all-state selection in high school and has remained close to him throughout continued blot clot issues that derailed his college career at Metro State and forced him into retirement.
“With everything he’s gone through — and he’s still currently battling, because he has another blot clot in his heart at the moment — he still has a long road, and knowing the medical bills he’s accumulated just kind of led this to happen,” Schoepflin said. “It made me say, ‘Why not start this now, and start it with Tony?’ Because there are a lot of hockey players out there in need of help just like him.”
Salazar’s shirt reads Play for those who can’t and his No. 18 is incorporated into the design.
It’s a mantra that not only summarizes Salazar’s hockey identity — he was a unique brand of bruiser who was as well-known for his physicality and hustle as he was for his stick skills — but the motivations behind Boost Hockey as a whole.
“This game that I’ve dedicated my life to, and that I love — I hate the thought of a kid not getting the chance to experience that love because of money or some uncontrollable external factor,” Schoepflin said. “Hopefully, one campaign at a time, we can help get kids the opportunity to play.”