Spoke with longtime Idaho Falls Youth Hockey Association affiliate Mike Lehto for the final Medal Stand column of 2015. The Idaho Selects, a hockey team comprised of girls from across the Gem State, has made its debut this winter with Idaho Falls as its home base. The team was a dream of Lehto’s ever since he moved to Idaho more than 20 years ago.
The Medal Stand: All-Idaho girls hockey team debuts in I.F.
A dream — or perhaps more accurately, a team — that was decades in the making finally came to fruition this winter for longtime Idaho Falls Youth Hockey Association affiliate Mike Lehto.
The Idaho Selects, consisting of girls hockey players throughout the state, made its official debut this season after being launched as a pilot program last season. Lehto said he had a renewed interest in creating the team eight years ago, and he approached the Idaho Amateur Hockey Association about it in 2012.
Over the summer, the team came together at an Olympic development camp. Of the 30 athletes who were invited, 22 accepted. Seven are locals.
Idaho finally had an all-state girls team like Montana, Wyoming and Utah.
“We’re the last real affiliate to do this (in the intermountain West),” Lehto said. “That’s been the passion to get this done. It’s gonna be a good first year. I think next year it will be better.”
In August, Lehto skated at a rink while visiting Phoenix and saw the tryouts for Arizona’s all-state girls team. He immediately knew who his team’s first opponent would be the week of Thanksgiving.
“I said, ‘We’ve gotta come to their tournament because I think we can beat them,’” Lehto said. “The girls were shocked. We ended up beating them 3-1.”
Idaho Selects placed third at that tournament, the Cranberry Cup Invitational, falling to the Utah Grizzlies and defeating the Arizona Lady Coyotes and Utah Grizzlies. The next tournament is New Year’s Eve in Kalispell, Mont.
His ultimate hope for the team is to keep prospective players in Idaho.
“What happens in Idaho is girls have left and played on teams back East or in Canada,” Lehto said. “Now we’ve got a foothold in it. The long term plan is keep working in coaches, keep enhancing our player development.”
Tautphaus Park’s Joe Marmo/Wayne Lehto Ice Arena is the team’s home arena this year. Next year, Campion Ice House, a $6 million rink that opened in November in Hailey, will be the team’s home. Lehto said the biggest challenge thus far has been scheduling practices, especially if not all the athletes can attend. He is astonished at how the athletes have taken it in stride, however, particularly the ones from Moscow and McCall.
“They fly in to play with us,” Lehto said. “I’m just amazed that they’re willing to do that. It’s been such a good experience that they keep coming back.”
Funding has not been an obstacle for the newly-created Selects thanks to support from donors. Lehto said the athletes and their families have also been accommodating.
“There’s been a lot of carpooling, a lot of figuring it out but it’s all worked out pretty well so far,” Lehto said.
Coming up locally
Grand Targhee has a “Knowledge is Power” off trail ski and snowboard camp from Friday to Sunday. Lift tickets are included with the camp.
Jackson Hole Resort celebrates its 50th anniversary on Saturday with numerous events, including the opening of the new Teton Lift at 9:30 a.m. and a fireworks show from 5 to 6 p.m.
Team USA Update
Forward Abby Wambach played in her final game for the U.S. women’s national soccer team on Wednesday against China in the final stop of the post World Cup Victory Tour in New Orleans. She subbed out for Christen Press in the 72nd minute.
Mikaela Shiffrin, the three-time defending FIS slalom world champion who was second in the FIS women’s overall standings last week, told the Denver Post on Tuesday that she is “unlikely” to return to racing this season. The 20-year-old suffered a partial MCL tear and bruised tibial plateau from a crash in warm-ups before the giant slalom in Are, Sweden, last Saturday.