Ice in his veins: Pacheco’s love of hockey shines through


Jake Pacheco
Pueblo County’s Jake Pacheco, 15, shoots the puck to a teammate during their matchup against Woodland Park during the first period of play at the Pueblo Plaza Ice Arena on Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. Pueblo County beat Woodland Park 12-0. (Matt Weigand, The Pueblo Chieftain)

Jake Pacheco almost didn’t know any better.

For almost as long as he can remember, Pacheco has been skating. He did so with a hockey stick, chasing a black puck, and spent plenty of time at Pueblo Plaza Ice Arena.

It was there, almost without realizing it, that Pacheco developed his love of hockey. He watched his older brother play, also helping with the concession stand at the arena.

He’d see the fast pace, the excitement of scoring goals and the occasional fight. He was hooked on hockey.

“As a kid, you really don’t understand, but no one had to persuade me. I just loved it,” Pacheco said. “I fell in love with the sport. I still have a passion and love for the game.”

That shows when Pacheco is on the ice. A senior for Pueblo County’s 10th-ranked high school team, Pacheco is a starting defenseman and one of the team captains.

It’s no surprise given the family history with the game. His older brother, Kyle, was an all-Colorado hockey player in 2012 and went on to play junior hockey in Minnesota. Pacheco’s father, John, serves as the Hornets’ announcer on game days.

“We’ve just always been a hockey family,” Pacheco said. “I’d come watch my brother and see some cool stuff. I always thought it would be cool to play here, in front of these crowds. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Pacheco is playing his final season of hockey. He’s decided not to pursue it past this year and already has been accepted to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. There, he said, he plans to study aerospace engineering.

So Pacheco is looking to make the most of his final season on the ice. He’s going about it all while trying to learn a new position.

After years as a forward, the 6-foot-1 senior who attends Pueblo West was moved to defense. He’s thrived, helping the Hornets to a 5-1 start to the season. With Pacheco playing in back, Pueblo County has allowed 12 goals in six games. Six goals came in one game, the team’s lone loss.

“That was a big move, his senior year, and really shows the commitment to this team,” third-year coach Lee LaJeunesse said. “Jake is one of our bought-in guys. He’s very coachable. Sometimes with teenagers, you get the questioning and the excuses. You don’t get that with Jake. He just wants to get better.”

Things haven’t always gone smoothly for Pacheco. He’s a four-year letterman but was injured his first two seasons, missing the latter part.

As a sophomore, and in a scoring slump, Pacheco punched a wall and broke his hand. It was a hard lesson learned.

“It’s one of those things — you have to punch a wall to realize you never should punch a wall,” Pacheco said. “It was out of anger and I didn’t know how to handle it.

“That’s not leadership … and I had to step up from that, show something other than that. That’s not really who I am.”

Pacheco has become a leader for the Hornets, becoming more vocal but doing it mostly by example on the ice. His move to defense, for instance, showed his unselfishness, which is stressed by LaJeunesse.

“Setbacks like that would ruin a lot of kids, but Jake grew from it,” LaJeunesse said. “He’s matured so much in his four years here and become a team-first guy.”

Added teammate and fellow captain Dixson Root: “He’s got his own way of showing leadership, which is nice, because we all have different ways of expressing it. He doesn’t mess around. He’s a big part of our team.”

After a 3-0 start this season, the Hornets were ranked No. 7 in the state. Following a 6-1 loss to Mountain Vista, they’ve won two in a row with a big game scheduled tonight at home against Lewis-Palmer.

Pueblo County reached the second round of the state playoffs last season, and the program has showed it’s ready to make a move into the state’s upper echelon. The team’s goals are to better what it did last season when it finished 12-8-1 and lost to state power Monarch 8-0 in the playoffs.

As for Pacheco, his personal goals are simple.

“My main goal is to end with everything I have,” he said. “There’s a lot to be excited about, so I don’t leave anything on the ice. I’m going to leave it all out there.”