Pueblo’s hockey team has come a long way in three years – and that’s no bull.
The Pueblo Bulls junior A hockey club has established a strong presence in the community since its 2019 debut. The team plays in the Premier Conference of the U.S. Premier Hockey League.
Now the team is focused on honoring the commitment made the moment it arrived in Pueblo: Make the sport more accessible for Pueblo’s youth and make the city a hockey hotbed.
In the spring of 2022, the Bulls partnered with the Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association and Pueblo Youth Hockey, allowing the sport to continue as an independent organization in Pueblo under the team’s branding.
“It’s basically bringing it back home,” Bulls Vice President David Nelson said of the significance of being an independent organization for youth hockey in Pueblo. “There was great success back in the day with the Pueblo Panthers youth program and then, unfortunately just with (lower) numbers and support, they made the decision to partner up with (Colorado Springs). Now with our growth and the impact that we’ve had, it was best to bring it back home here in Pueblo.
“We’re still looking to be a part of CAHA (Colorado Amateur Hockey Association) and the different leagues for the youth programs to provide opportunity for the kids. But for us… it’s something that will be super exciting for the 6-year-old to wear a Bulls jersey and have (his or her) own name on the back and own number and to say (he or she) plays for the Pueblo Bulls as well.”
When asked how the Bulls are making hockey more accessible for everyone in Pueblo, Nelson said, “Through using all of our outlets and accessing them to full potential. Getting involved in the community is very important to us and by doing that, (it) allows us a great opportunity to grow the game with kids that maybe never even knew what hockey was or have never been to a hockey game.”
In addition to the junior A U20 team (players are ages 16-20), the Bulls are introducing a team for every age group.
“I think it’s just great for the game to grow as a whole and (to) showcase our great sport to our community who may not know about the game itself or the Bulls. I hope growing the game will impact the community of Pueblo by showcasing the opportunity for kids to play hockey and find it as an outlet to grow as a player and a person.”
However, Nelson is not the only one who views the new youth teams as an excellent opportunity to expand hockey in Pueblo.
Veteran Bulls forwards Rylan Marcum and Owen Ames, both entering their second season with the team, expressed their enthusiasm about young players getting more involved with the sport.
“The Bulls taking over is a huge thing for Colorado hockey,” Marcum said. “The more (kids) you can get, the better athletes you can get growing up. It’s going to make hockey that much better. I’ve done coaching with little kids since I was probably 10 years old, so it’s common for me to be like, ‘Oh I love this! Let’s go out there and help a kid tie his skates, see a smile on his face when he puts on a Bulls jersey.’ That’s awesome to me.
“It’s awesome for the junior team, too, because then you see the kids you coach at the games and you can wave to them, give them a fist bump and their faces light up and that’s what you want.”
Ames elaborated about how the junior players help out with the youth teams.
“It’s awesome… We’ve gone to kids’ games (and) Tuesday and Thursday practices, we’re out there. They all look up to us and we just want to set a good example.”
The team continues to implement changes in other ways, as well. The Pueblo Bulls Hockey Shop opened Sept. 6. Located at 310 W. Fourth St., it carries a plethora of Bulls apparel and merchandise.
“I think it’s able to show the community we are invested in this (city) and we are staying,” Nelson said. “(It) also allows us to have a home base for our organization as we continue to grow.”
The Bulls recently received unanimous approval from Pueblo City Council for a five-year lease and management agreement allowing the organization to manage, operate and promote the Pueblo Ice Arena.
How have the Bulls been able to establish a thriving organization despite Pueblo’s instability with hockey teams in the past?
“I think this starts with the community embracing us from day one, helping with all of our successes we have had,” said Nelson. “Pueblo… backs many things that are great within our community, not just the Bulls. Pueblo is also a very passionate town that gets behind their sports teams. Another factor is the people here are great and want not only the Bulls to be successful, but the community as a whole.”
Ames and Marcum expressed their appreciation for the Pueblo fans.
“I think David said (the team did) 3,000 hours of community service last year,” Ames said. Almost everyone knows us by now so guys are helping out. It’s just different things we’re setting up and it’s good for the community, I think, (to) know our names and to see these hard-working people that we get to play in front of and that they support us.”
“Everyone wants to be there, they want to be with the guys and they want to be with the community and I think that’s such a good thing because the more you help the community, the more they’ll back you,” said Marcum.
Puebloans offer their support in multiple ways. Nelson said the team has more than 400 season-ticket holders, up from 170 in the first season. Residents also offer to be billet families, providing host homes for players who are not from Pueblo.
“My job with regard to my billet boys is to act as a guide,” said Carrie Archuleta, who is hosting three players this season. “I do make sure they have a safe place to sleep and food to eat, but I hope that we provide a safe environment for them to grow into the men I know they can become, whether it’s encouraging them in their hockey playing or talking them through the college selection process or listening while they decide that this may be the end of their hockey career.”
Due to the organization’s growth, the Bulls will move up to the National Collegiate Development Conference Tier II of the USPHL for the 2023-24 season. The NCDC is geared toward developing players for Division I hockey. It means a higher level of hockey for fans and more opportunities for players.
“NCDC is a great league that is continuing to grow as well, while providing players the opportunity to play at the highest level and move them on,” said Nelson. “This process took some time and timing is everything and it worked out great.
“We believe we already run one of the top programs in all of junior hockey in terms of our day-to-day (operations) and our impact on the players and within the community, so we hope that it will be an easy transition moving up leagues.”
The season opener for the Bulls, marking the start of what’s expected to be another successful season, is Sept. 30.
(All times local. Schedule subject to change.)
Sept. 30 7:10 p.m. Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Oct. 1 7:10 p.m. Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Oct. 2 2 p.m. Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Oct. 8 3:30 p.m. at Northern Colorado Eagles
Oct. 9 noon at Northern Colorado Eagles
Oct. 14 7:15 p.m. at Ogden Mustangs
Oct. 15 6:35 p.m. at Utah Outliers
Oct. 16 1:30 p.m. at Ogden Mustangs
Oct. 21 7:10 p.m. Utah Outliers
Oct. 22 7:10 p.m. Utah Outliers
Oct. 23 2 p.m. Utah Outliers
Oct. 27 2:05 p.m. at Provo Predators
Oct. 28 7:35 p.m. at Provo Predators
Oct. 29 7:35 p.m. at Provo Predators
Nov. 4 8:30 p.m. at Northern Colorado Eagles
Nov. 5 8:30 p.m. at Northern Colorado Eagles
Nov. 6 noon at Northern Colorado Eagles
Nov. 11 7:10 p.m. Provo Predators
Nov. 12 7:10 p.m. Provo Predators
Nov. 13 2 p.m. Provo Predators
Nov. 25 7:10 p.m. Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Nov. 26 7:10 p.m. Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Nov. 27 2 p.m. Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Dec. 2 7:10 p.m. Northern Colorado Eagles
Dec. 3 7:10 p.m. Northern Colorado Eagles
Dec. 4 2 p.m. Northern Colorado Eagles
Dec. 8 7:05 p.m. at Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Dec. 9 7:05 p.m. at Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Dec. 10 7:05 p.m. at Idaho Falls Spud Kings
Dec. 16 midnight at Battle Creek Kernels (Chicago showcase)
at Chicago Cougars (Chicago showcase)
Columbus Mavericks (Chicago showcase)
Wooster Oilers (Chicago showcase)
Jan. 6 7:10 p.m. Northern Colorado Eagles
Jan. 7 7:10 p.m. Northern Colorado Eagles
Jan. 13 7:15 p.m. at Ogden Mustangs
Jan. 14 8:30 p.m. at Provo Predators
Jan. 15 1:30 p.m. at Ogden Mustangs
Jan. 20 7:05 p.m. at Utah Outliers
Jan. 21 6:35 p.m. at Utah Outliers
Jan. 22 12:05 p.m. at Utah Outliers
Jan. 27 7:10 p.m. Ogden Mustangs
Jan. 28 7:10 p.m. Ogden Mustangs
Jan. 29 2 p.m. Ogden Mustangs
Feb. 4 3:30 p.m. at Northern Colorado Eagles
Feb. 5 noon at Northern Colorado Eagles
Feb. 17 7:10 p.m. Utah Outliers
Feb. 18 7:10 p.m. Utah Outliers
Feb. 19 2 p.m. Utah Outliers
Feb. 24 7:10 p.m. Vernal Oilers
Feb. 25 7:10 p.m. Vernal Oilers
Feb. 26 2 p.m. Vernal Oilers
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