Devyn Hotho's and Angela Nelson's journey to playing in the USA National Ice Hockey Championships began when they were playing hockey with a ball in a parking lot.
Both girls will be playing in the National Championships with the San Jose Sharks Junior teams. Hotho of Minden will play with the Sharks 14 and under team while Nelson of Gardnerville will play with the Sharks 16 and under team.
The Nationals will be held March 28-April 1 in San Jose. As the hosts, the Sharks teams received automatic berths to nationals.
When Hotho was five and Nelson was six they met playing hockey with a ball in the parking lot of CCMeneley School in Gardnerville. Nelson had watched the U.S. women win the gold medal in the 1998 Winter Olympics and she was excited about hockey. Hotho had also watched Cammi Granato lead her team to a gold medal but she was already excited about the sport. Her older brother, Jack, was playing inline hockey and Hotho wanted to be part of it.
But first she needed to learn to skate. Her parents bought her Playskool 1-2-3 skates but that made her mad. She called them "baby skates" and told them she'd need "real" skates if she was going to skate like her brother. While she waited for her Playskool skates to be exchanged she taught herself to skate by putting her feet (with her shoes on) inside her brother's skates. Jack is five years older than Hotho and the skates were so big they came to her knees.
Hotho and Nelson played hockey with a ball until moving up to regulation inline hockey a couple of years later in Carson City. They started attending hockey camps out of the area during the summers and frequently were voted onto all-star teams at the end of each inline season.
In 2002 the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena opened and the girls made the switch to ice. It wasn't long before they were both playing on travel teams for High Sierra Wild and playing all their away games in the Bay Area.
The girls continued to play with the Wild until this season when both families felt it was becoming too dangerous for them to be playing full contact (checking) with the boys. Hotho had already suffered two concussions. The last year playing for the Wild she was the assistant captain of the Pee Wee team (11-12 year olds) and the leading scorer with 48 points. Nelson was playing defense for the bantams (13-14 year olds) but was ready to make the switch to girls hockey.
This season both girls traveled to San Jose in August to try out for the Sharks Junior Girls teams. A huge undertaking for their families, both physically and financially, but something they were willing to attempt because of the girls' love of the sport.
Hotho made the 14 and under team, Nelson made the 16 and under team, and Hotho was later voted captain of her team. There are three other girls playing in San Jose from the Tahoe area as well.
Gwen and Mady Paul play on the 14 and under team and Cierra Rawlings plays on the 16 and under team. The girls car pool together and have only missed two weekends during the seven month season: once for Thanksgiving and once due to illness.
All five girls have kept at least a 4.0 grade average and have played school sports and been involved in band, Key Club, and National Honor Society. They also all attend extra ice practices one or two nights a week at the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena. Coaches Gary Gramprie and Jim Copel have been helpful to the girls, integrating them into their practices, even though they no longer play on their teams.
The Junior Sharks teams have an extensive travel schedule during the year when they're not playing boys' teams throughout the Bay Area. They compete against boys teams regularly, although it is a non-checking game. This past season they traveled to Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, and Connecticut to face girls teams. The 16 and under team traveled to Detroit as well.
In January tryouts were held in Los Angeles for the USA Hockey district camp. The girls competed against other female hockey players from California and Nevada who hoped they might have a chance to make it to the next level. Nelson was sick and couldn't make the trip but Hotho competed and was chosen to go on to Seattle.
In May, Hotho and the other top girls from across the Pacific District (which includes Alaska, Oregon, and Washington) will compete, with three or four in each age group advancing to the National Camp in Rochester, N.Y. in July.