The Lightning High School Hockey League gets more diverse every season it operates, and after meeting with this week’s Freshman in Focus, Stefan Bolton, diversity is the exact word that describes him. Adopted as an infant from Berizniki Russia, an area due North of Kazakhstan and approximately 1000 miles East of Moscow, Stefan has dabbled in being a gymnastics prodigy, ice hockey all-star, and is now well on his way to getting his PGA card for his work put in on the golf course. Through an interview that took me on spins and exciting redirections, I lost track of time as I found out more and more about the player that wears number 8 for Jenkins every Friday night. Get to know Stefan through some Quick-Release Questions.
Me- Stamkos or Ovechkin?
Me- You have to choose your dream car, are you going with luxury or sport?
Me- You’re going on a vacation; would you rather be camping or exploring a city?
Stefan- I’d rather be camping
Me- Burger King or McDonald’s?
Stefan- Burger King
Me- It’s movie night- comedy or action?
Me- Buy lunch from school or pack a lunch?
Stefan- Pack a lunch?
Me- You get the chance to meet any celebrity you want. Who do you want to meet?
Stefan- Either Auston Matthews or John Tavares… I think I’ll go Tavares
Me- You mess up a drill in practice, what coach is most likely to make you skate a lap?
Stefan- Coach Eric
Me- Would you rather score the game winning goal or make the tape to tape pass that sets up the game winning goal?
Stefan- I’d rather score it
I broke into talk with Stefan about how he had gotten into the sport of hockey and quickly found out that Stefan does things in his own style. Whereas most kids start out as a player, then decide to switch to be a goalie, Stefan gave it a full send at eight years old and decided to strap on the pads first. It made sense due to his flexibility from being a gymnast, but after taking a few pucks to the bucket, he decided to start playing out. On Stefan’s background in gymnastics, he was soon to be a level 10 gymnast and top three in Florida before shattering his leg in a competition.
This sidelined him for months and put him far enough behind the competition at such a critical time, that he decided to focus on hockey and golf after his recovery. Up until his injury, Stefan had trained with Team USA coaching staff and was well on his way to success after winning the Virginia State Championship multiple times and being the 2011 US-Northeast All Around Champion. Now Stefan is a prominent member of the Lightning High School Hockey League Freshman Class, and possibly has the heaviest shot of the class of 2022 due to his frequent presence on the golf course. Stefan is on the golf staff at Carrollwood Country Club, has shot in the 70’s and has won several local tournaments. Stefan brings this shot and his skating ability to Jenkins as a pool player.
Knowing that he was a pool player I asked him what the environment was like playing for a team where at first you didn’t know anybody and wanted to know how he adjusted. With confidence he told me, “It’s not so hard meeting new people for me because I moved around a lot as a child. The easiest thing to do is show everyone that you’re a hard worker on the ice. The coaches will appreciate it and the other players will warm up to you fast. Within a few practices, you can usually change to the new environment and the team will develop the chemistry you need to feel welcome.”
I asked Stefan what he thought about the league and where he wanted to see it grow as he continues playing throughout his high school career. “I like that I already know 3-5 players on every team because of the years I’ve played in rec leagues and on travel teams. I love that the games are on Friday nights and you can come out after a long week at school and just have fun, even if you’re on a good team or a bad team, you know you’re out here to play and have fun. It gets me through the week.” On the changes to the league, Stefan didn’t want much, “Maybe the league could enforce having two or three practices a week rather than only having a team practice once a week.”
Wanting to know more about who Stefan Bolton the hockey player, I asked him about what number he wears on his back, and why, “I grew up outside of Washington D.C., so I wear number 8. I didn’t always play hockey, but I watched it on TV and fell in love with how Ovechkin played, so when I got the chance to start skating, I wore number 8 because of him even though I work a little harder when it comes to the back check.” With this article coming out of Lightning Made Studios, I will note that Ovechkin may also be a reason Stefan fell in love with golf at an early age.
Stefan has found a set of skills in sports his whole life, and it may guide him into his future. Stefan told me that his plans for his professional career are based off his sporting abilities, “I want to get my PGA card. Once I can get my PGA Card, I can give private lessons to those that want them, or I can go to a nice country club and be a teacher’s assistant and maybe coach some kids. After that, I’d like to be a pro and just ride all the way up the line of being a golf pro. There’re steps to take to get there and I’m working on my PGA Card now.
As Stefan finished up answering all my questions, I asked him to think about himself four years from now and to tell himself where he wants to have improved. He said, “I know what I want. I want to have my PGA Card, I want to be a captain of a team in the high school league, and I want to be on the league leaderboard. I want to be the top dog.”
For a message to the other first years in the league, players playing on struggling teams, or players that joined organizations where they knew nobody Stefan says, “You have to give it your all at first. You have to show the coaches and the other players who you are, and who you will be on and off the ice. You have to stay positive and love the sport. If you love the sport, what are you doing if you aren’t showing that you love it? The first year of high school hockey especially, you’re setting an example and the pace for what you’re going to be over the next few seasons.”
Stefan closed out the interview by wanting to share a message to his coaches and family, “I love my coaches and my family. My coaches are so positive. They give me the motivation to push me to the limit. If it weren’t for my coaches right now, I wouldn’t be giving it my all because as a team, we struggle. As a leader, I talk to my coaches and ask them questions and they help me by being positive and telling me I can do this, or I can do that, and it guides me.”
As to his family, “If it weren’t for my father, I definitely would not be playing hockey for sure. After I broke my leg in gymnastics, I told my dad I was done with sports because I was so committed to gymnastics and I thought my life was done, like it was over. That hit me hard, and my dad was there to push me through it. He told me I was an athlete and that I could try any sport and in two to three months I could have it down. I started golf since we lived on a beautiful golf course, and eventually he asked me to play hockey since it’s similar to golf and I watched so much hockey on TV. I was terrible the first time [on the ice] but I loved it so I bought equipment the second day, and now
I’m here. As for my mom and siblings, my sister and my mother are very loving. They’re always there for me whenever I need them. They know I’m very competitive so know when to push me and keep me motivated so I don’t give up. I love them for that. My brother, sister, and mom are so positive and I’m thankful for that.”