Aspen Junior hockey was founded by John McBride, a Princeton University standout (1960), a member of the USA Hockey World Championship team (1961), and a star for the Aspen Leafs semi-pro team (late sixties – early seventies). When his kids were old enough to play, he transitioned from player to coach, and founded the Aspen Leafs youth program. With limited funds, he and the other coaches were creative providing for players, including using rolled up magazines for shin pads. Growing up in Chicago, McBride developed a strong passion for hockey, and eventually changed the lives of numerous boys and girls in Aspen by selflessly passing on his knowledge and love for the game. As the program continued to grow, more and more kids were exposed to the character, skills and joy needed to succeed in hockey and life. Today over 300 players continue to benefit from a program focused on the kids first.
Aspen Junior Hockey continues to operate with the same passion and dedication to children that McBride started. The Leafs currently provide a highly structured program (6U-20U) featuring world-class training for boys and girls. Staying true to its roots, program costs are kept low to encourage all children throughout the Roaring Fork Valley to participate. To continue to keep hockey affordable and accessible, as much as 60-70% of AJH costs are subsidized through sponsorships and donations. For the second season, Development Director Blake Hull organized a Hall of Fame Weekend to help raise awareness and support for AJH programming, celebrate its accomplishments, and prepare for the future.
To help promote this community and parental support, NHL legends Bobby Hull and Ed Belfour travelled to Aspen as featured guests for events scheduled Friday through Sunday (February 10-12). Both spoke about hockey in a way that quickly revealed the passion that drove their impressive careers as world-class athletes. This passion was founded at an early age from small town community support, parental encouragement, friendships, and fun. Both dreamed of greatness and had heroes to motivate them. It was NHL legend Gordie Howe that inspired the dreams of Bobby Hull, and it was Bobby Hull who inspired the dreams of Ed Belfour.
Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983, Bobby Hull is regarded as one of the greatest players of all time. He revolutionized the game with his incredible speed and powerful shot. He began his career with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1957 at the age of eighteen. Three seasons later (1961) he hoisted the Stanley Cup. During his NHL career, Hull was awarded the Hart Memorial Trophy (MVP) twice, the Art Ross Trophy (most points in a season) three times, and the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (best sportsmanship). In 1966, he became the first player in NHL History to score 50 goals in one season. He would repeat this feat 9 times in his professional career.
Ed Belfour is considered one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history. He ranks third all time with a staggering 484 wins. In his rookie season, he broke the NHL rookie record by collecting 43 wins in 74 games and led the league in save percentage (.910). For these accomplishments, Belfour was awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy (top rookie). A two time Vezina Trophy winner (top goaltender), he appeared in six NHL All-Star games. In 1999, Belfour led the Dallas Stars to a Stanley Cup with an impressive 1.26 goals against average in the final series lasting six games. He remains the only player in history to have won a Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold Medal, Canada Cup (World Cup of Hockey) and an NCAA championship. Belfour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011.
On Saturday night, both legends attended an Aspen Leafs junior game (20U vs. Rampage), signed autographs and mingled with fans. Their sincere passion for hockey was reflected by the time they spent with the Aspen community. After the game Bobby Hull remained at Lewis Arena talking to players until literally the lights went out. On Sunday, Hull spent another three hours at the Aspen Mite (8U) Jamboree, which featured three teams from Aspen, three from Glenwood and two from Vail. Young players were in awe as every participant had a chance to try on Hull’s Stanley Cup Championship ring, shake his hand, and receive his autograph.
On Sunday night both NHL legends were the featured guests at a successful fundraising dinner hosted by Aspen Junior Hockey. Their message was clear. With the highly structured program and world-class curriculum currently provided by AJH, parental and community appreciation and support is the key to long-term success. This support will only foster a positive environment, allowing all kids an opportunity to enjoy the game, develop passion, and dream big, which is what propelled the careers of both Hull and Belfour. As the founder of AJH, it was fitting that John McBride was present to witness these two former Chicago legends in Aspen supporting the club he started.