Hockey Hits The Slopes

Former Pro Player Revels In His Role Of Growing The Game In A Wyoming Ski Town

 

When Drew Akins retired from professional hockey four years ago, the thought of settling into an office job sent an icy chill down his spine. That was until an acquaintance from his hometown, Bob Carruth, reached out about joining him in Jackson Hole. 

Akins’ hockey career included serving as the captain of the University of Minnesota Duluth’s Bulldogs and traveling the world to play professionally in Poland and Australia. But nowadays, he can be found at the Snow King Sports & Event Center in Jackson, Wyo., as the director of player development, growing youth hockey in the shadows of one of the country’s top ski resorts.

In a town of about 10,000 people, the Jackson youth program boasts almost 300 kids. And Akins is responsible for ensuring each of them receives the proper training at each stage of their development. 

The 34-year-old Excelsior, Minn., native spends dozens of hours a week on the ice organizing practice structures, helping coaches run efficient practices and running specialized skill sessions. He also helps parents and players navigate their own paths forward in the game that has been Akins’ whole life.

“I’m there to make sure that kids are learning the right things at the right time and grow hockey in the community,” Akins said. 

“Obviously it’s a ski town but we also see it as a hockey town as well. It’s really grown and we have a pretty large hockey following.”

He would certainly know how big hockey really is in the area. After spending hours on the ice at practices during the day, Akins skates with the Jackson Moose, a local adult team, on his days off. That was one of the perks of living and working in such a close-knit community.

“For me, it’s really nice to be on both sides of the game now,” Akins said. “It’s awesome to still have a team to play for where the level’s high and feel like I never left the game. It couldn’t have worked out any better, to be honest with you.”

An average of 1,000 fans a game watched Akins put up 61 points in 16 games this season, second on the team behind Fairbanks, Alaska, native A.J. Sanders. His biggest fans? The kids he helps coach during the week. 

Akins knows he’s a role model, on and off the ice. He’s a prime example that playing professional hockey is an attainable dream. But he also uses that experience to become a better coach for the kids of Jackson. 

He remembers back to his playing days and the way he liked to be coached. He credits his playing days for giving him a better understanding of how to connect with the kids in the youth program. 

For a guy who spends almost every waking moment on the ice, Akins has yet to grow tired of the rink. And while he encourages his players to be multi-sport athletes, focus on something other than hockey and take mental and physical breaks, there’s no place he’d rather be than in his “home” rink in Jackson.

“It feels so natural for me to be at the rink,” he said. “My job is literally to go the rink and be on the ice and do what I love. Hockey’s just something that’s been a hug part of my life since I was three years old and it doesn’t even feel like a job. That’s the best part of it all.”

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