Seventh-grader Hardty Huffman competes in hockey world youth championship


Courtesy photos Pinedale seventh-grader Hardty Huffman, pictured in Prague, Czech Republic, recently returned from the World Youth Hockey Championships in the city representing Wyoming and the United States on Prime Hockey’s Midwest team. Hardty Huffman, No. 8, faces off against his opponent from the Czech Republic at the World Youth Hockey Championships in Prague.

PINEDALE – Over the course of the grueling six-month winter sports season, Pinedale seventh-grader Hardty Huffman eats, sleeps and breathes hockey.

From late October to mid-March, Huffman plays up to four games each weekend across the state and region as a center for the Jackson Moose 12U “A” team, affiliated with the Wyoming Amateur Hockey League (WAHL) and USA Hockey. While most young hockey players take a break for the holidays, Huffman is back on the ice playing for WAHL’s Team Wyoming, battling opponents at regional tournaments over Halloween, Thanksgiving, New Years and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

“It’s hockey every single weekend – a lot of traveling,” said Huffman.

Huffman makes the trip to Jackson two to three times a week during the season to practice with his teammates. He spends the remaining weekdays accumulating ice time at the Pinedale Arena’s stick-and-puck sessions.

The ability to thrive in a hectic training and game schedule involves a considerable degree of concentration that few middle schoolers possess.

“I just have always had that focus,” said Huffman. “I try a lot harder in practice. When my teammates are dinking around, I try to stay focused so I can get more out of practice.”

Huffman’s stats attest to the young player’s extraordinary drive. The center led the Jackson Moose in scoring, shooting in 48 goals throughout the 2022-2023 winter season and posting an impressive 3.39 points per game.

Huffman’s talent and dedication recently caught the eye of organizers at the 2022 Salt Lake Showcase, a regional tournament for elite athletes sponsored by Prime Hockey, a national youth hockey organization.

On Feb. 17, Huffman received the invitation of a lifetime from Prime Hockey – an opportunity to represent Wyoming and the United States at the World Youth Hockey Championships in Prague, Czech Republic.

“It was just totally a surprise,” Huffman said. “I never thought I’d play overseas.”

Huffman joined 14 other nationally top-ranked players from the region to play on Prime Hockey’s Midwest team in the 2010 division (for players born in 2010) at the World Championships from May 26-June 4. His teammates hailed from big-name programs like the Phoenix Junior Coyotes and the Las Vegas Junior Golden Knights, along with players from hockey-centric states like Minnesota.

Huffman stood alone from Wyoming.

“It was really cool playing with all those high-level players,” said Huffman. “(Other players) would ask, ‘Where’s Wyoming?’ The closest place they knew was Las Vegas.”

Developing a passion

Huffman started ice-skating soon after learning to walk. By the time he turned 4, Huffman found himself out on the rink gripping a hockey stick and learning how to aim a puck into the net.

Huffman followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Yates, and big sister, Aringtyn. Yates plays center for the Pinedale Glaciers 18U high school team and Aringtyn serves as goalie for the 18U team and 19U girls’ squad.

“Hardty sat in the bleachers and watched his siblings when he was little,” said father Ty Huffman.

The sport quickly grew on Huffman.

“Hockey is really physical,” he said. “Most other sports, you can’t play that physical. Hockey takes your mind off of things.”

As Huffman’s talent progressed, he successfully tried out for traveling teams. While the time spent on the road occasionally took its toll, especially in the middle of a Wyoming winter, Huffman enjoyed the camaraderie at tournaments.

“You make a lot of friends along the way,” Huffman remarked.

The World Championships

Huffman and his family touched down in Prague after spending 25 hours on board a plane or in an airport. The young hockey player received a crash course in geography.

“Our flight went from Jackson to Salt Lake, Salt Lake to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Prague,” Huffman said. “On the way back, it was Czech Republic to Paris, Paris to Salt Lake and Salt Lake to Jackson … A 10-hour flight from Paris to Salt Lake.”

Soon after the plane touched down in Prague, Huffman met his new teammates and coaches. The players underwent only two practices before being thrown into competition – scant time to build team chemistry.

“It took about three days to get to know each other pretty well,” said Huffman. “We spent time in the locker room talking, getting to know each other, learning names and figuring out where we were all from. We played soccer and basketball in our free time together.”

The tournament featured round-robin play with teams from the United States, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, Slovakia, Sweden and Canada squaring off before advancing to the playoffs. Russia participated in past world championships, but did not attend in 2023 due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Huffman’s team, Midwest Prime, trounced a team from Slovakia, 5-1, in the opening round.

Next up, Midwest Prime took on East Coast Prime, a formidable opponent.

“(East Coast Prime) was all kids from the top-10 teams in America – the Junior (Boston) Bruins, Junior (Philadelphia) Flyers, two prep-school players.”

Regulation ended in a 6-6 stalemate.

“We got the early lead, 2-0,” Huffman explained. “Then they came back and were up, 4-2. We went up again and they went up 6-4 with 5 minutes left. We got one goal in, and we all got pumped. Then we got another goal in. One of the big keys to winning that game was playing physical, checking a lot of people, making them more scared. It was a very competitive game.”

Huffman’s team pulled ahead in the overtime shootout to seal the victory, 7-6.

Midwest Prime finished the tournament in fourth place after falling in two games that came down to the wire in the playoffs.

Huffman got to know players on other teams throughout the tournament, and developed a friendship with Canada’s Liam Pue, regarded as one of the world’s best youth hockey players.

“Everyone else on my team was scared to talk to Liam Pue,” Huffman said. “I just went over and talked to him and he was a normal person.”

The universal language of hockey superseded cultural differences out on the ice.

“It was kind of cool that the kids could get together, not speak the same language, and still have a functional game,” said Ty Huffman.

Unfortunately, the language barrier did put a dent in one hockey staple – trash talk.

“In hockey, there is a lot of talking on the ice between teams, trash talking,” said Huffman. “We’re all speaking a different language, and we’re like, ‘What are you saying?’”

A cultural experience

While hockey took up a significant chunk of Huffman’s time in Europe, he was able to get out and sightsee. He took in Prague’s famous medieval Old Town, toured a brewery in the city and visited the center of government in the Czech Republic, Prague Castle.

Prague’s ancient buildings offered a completely different environment from rural Wyoming.

“It was a cool experience,” said Huffman. “Everything is old and looks different. We saw a church that took 600 years to build.”

Huffman and his teammates picked up a few Czech words.

“We jumped this fence to go into a school playground and play soccer,” said Huffman. “Some guy was yelling at us in Czech, but we didn’t know what he was saying, so we just stayed with it. This class comes out. There was one student that could speak English. He’s telling us we’re fine and to play basketball. Then these girls came out and (some of the boys on my team) wanted to know how to say 'girl' to talk to them.”

Hardty intends to continue his hockey career, with plans to play at the college level and dreams of making it in the National Hockey League.

Huffman avidly follows professional hockey, looking up to the Boston Bruins’ David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers' left wing Matthew Tkachuk and Chicago Black Hawks’ draft pick Connor Bedard. Huffman met Tkachuk when the Florida Panthers traveled to Jackson to practice between games.

Huffman gave a shout out to his parents, coaches and big brother.

“Yates was big – just watching him play,” said Huffman. “He taught me a lot of stuff that he had to teach himself.”