When Durango High School senior Braden Lyons told his associate captain Jax Bayer he was going to play hockey in Europe, Bayer, a fellow senior on the Durango Demons varsity club hockey team, beamed with pride. He knows where the game of hockey can lead.
“I’ve been playing with Braden coming up on eight or nine years now,” said Bayer, who also plans to play junior hockey after high school. “When he told me he was going to play in Europe, I was just proud of the kid because I know, every single year we’ve played hockey, it’s, ‘I wanna go somewhere, I wanna make it somewhere.’ The fact that hockey is able to take him and go somewhere? It doesn’t matter where you go, as long as you keep the sport in your life, that’s all that matters.”
Lyons is Durango’s captain, and while he has his sights set on playing for club teams in Belgium next year, he has more business to take care of this weekend. The Demons (8-2-2) are the No. 2 seed in the Rio Grande High School Hockey League made up of teams from Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and the year-end-tournament will start Friday in Santa Fe. Durango has been runners-up in 2016 and 2017, and made the first round of the playoffs last season.
Lyons is the league leader in points with 48, while fellow linemate Zak Wentworth, a freshman, is second in the league with 45. With help from other top performers Everett Howland (34 points), Bode Ensign (25) and Bayer (24), the Demons have a real shot of bringing home a banner to Chapman Hill Ice Rink for the first time in program history.
“I think the reason why we’ve been playing so well is because of our chemistry,” Lyons said. “Last year, it wasn’t a lack of effort at all, but we’ve gotten to a certain point where we’ve realized, us seniors, we want to go out with a bang.”
With ice time at Chapman hill at a premium, the Demons have had to practice at 6 a.m. numerous times this season. Lyons said his teammates are on the ice well before practice begins. He thinks the culture of the program is shifting back toward being a power in the Four Corners.
“At first, it was a coach decision because of ice time, but it really has been a great move for our team,” Lyons said. “Being on the ice that early has been big for many of the kids, and it’s opened our eyes to realize how much this sport means to us. The dedication we’ve put in has honestly really helped us. It’s so cool to see the entire team performing in general.”
Durango has won nine consecutive league games and have outscored opponents 68-8 dating back to mid-January. Lyons registered points in eight of the nine games and tallied 12 goals and 14 assists during the stretch. With his game continuing to evolve, Durango head coach Brian Ensign has noticed Lyons’ leadership shine.
“All of our seniors are respected, and he’s got a quiet leadership to him, but he’s not afraid to say what needs to be said,” Ensign said. “He just doesn’t talk for the noise of it. He says the right things, he works hard and, through thick and thin, he’s consistent. This year, he’s just having a phenomenal year. He’s always been a pretty good pure goal scorer, but at both ends of the ice, he’s on it. ... He kind of fits the mold of a European player, actually.”
Lyons, son of Brad and Inge Lyons, also played a key role on the Durango High School soccer team last fall, as he scored six times and added four assists. He is a top student with a 4.3 grade-point average. When the opportunity of studying and playing in Europe became a reality, Lyons jumped at the chance. In the fall, he will attend Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
“My mom is from Belgium, and I’m a dual citizen,” he said. “My sister currently goes to school in Holland. The back story of playing hockey over there is that my uncle played for the Red Devils in Belgium, and he and my grandpa have gone to scout out leagues that they think I could play in. I won’t go straight into the Red Devils junior team because it’s super skilled over there, but I’ll probably start out with smaller clubs and work my way up. I’m certainly not going to stop playing hockey because I love the sport.”
At the start of the season, Ensign asked a simple question to the team that would help define Lyons’ final season: “What player do you trust the most?” Lyons name came up the most, and he was named team captain. Fellow seniors Bayers, Howland and Joe Arwine were all named alternate captains.
“The last team I played on was a Double-A junior team I played on was called the Mountain Militia,” Bayer said. “I was the captain of that team. To come back into Durango and have Braden be the captain, it literally didn’t feel any different. I felt like even though he had the ‘C’ on his chest that, no matter what, between all four of the seniors, everybody looked up to us an equal amount. It wasn’t just that we had one captain, we’ve got four leaders on the team that can do something, and that’s why we’re so strong.”
Durango earned a first-round bye and will play the winner of Los Alamos and the Albuquerque Bears at 8 p.m. Friday at the Chavez Center in Santa Fe. If the Demons win, the semifinals will be at 2:30 p.m., while the championship will be at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“This weekend, it really is everything,” Lyons said. “It’s everything we’ve been working for not only this year, but my entire hockey career has really led up to us. This is the end goal, which is scary to say, but the team and I are super excited. We’ve been talking about this for so long, and now that it’s here, it’s a bit surreal. We want to come back with the trophy for the first time.”
Behind the scenes with Braden Lyons
Do you have a favorite artist?:
I love Kendrick Lamar, but our team’s favorite warm-up band is Suicide Boys.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?:
I’d like to see Greece, Dubai and Canada. Hockey is such a big part up there, and also the scenery seems amazing.
do you have a favorite athletic moment?:
Winning a shootout against an Ohio team at a tournament in Colorado Springs last year. I scored the first shootout goal, and Zak Wentworth, who wasn’t even in high school then, scored the gnarliest bar-down, toe-drag goal you’ve ever seen. We went crazy when he won it for us.
Do you have a dream car?:
My dream car would be a Koenigsegg Agerra RS. I know not a lot of people have heard of it, but it’s one of the fastest electric cars in the world.
If you were a superhero, who would you pick?:
Spider-Man. He’s made a big comeback in the last few years. He used to be so underrated, and he’s iconic.
Do you have a favorite athlete?:
Cale Makar from the Avalanche. He’s been so good, and I’m inspired by his play on the ice.
which teacher has had the biggest impact on you?:
I’d say Sasha Creeden. She was my freshman biology teacher and my junior AP environmental science teacher. She helped me find biology as an interest, and she’s recommended me to so many different programs in Durango and all over the place.