SHERIDAN — A few years ago, Sam Boyles’ life didn’t include hockey. The sport couldn’t even claim a dot anywhere remotely close to Boyles’ radar. But now, in his senior year on the Sheridan Hawks, hockey has fostered a life for Boyles that includes coast-to-coast traveling, international experiences and, hopefully, a collegiate jersey with the name ‘Boyles’ proudly displayed on the back.
“He has got the right attitude to play college hockey,” Sheridan Hawks head coach Kirk Viren said. “He’s got confidence in himself, but not any kind of cockiness or arrogance. And it’s his work ethic that has gotten him to where he is, and it will take him a far as he wants.”
Boyles began his love affair with hockey down in Douglas — in a barn. The hockey scene wasn’t exactly booming in Douglas, like oil or natural gas, and their seasonal hockey arena, housed in a barn, was set up in late fall and remained functional until spring.
This didn’t give Boyles much time to fast-track his way into a sport in which he got a late start. So he improvised.
In Boyles’ first couple years in Douglas, when the barn wasn’t open, he’d grab a stick and a ball and practice wherever and whenever he could.
Fortunately for Boyles, and fortunately for the Hawks, he and his family didn’t stay in Douglas long. The Boyleses moved north to Sheridan just a few years back, presenting Sam Boyles with a much better opportunity to hit his stride in the sport he quickly grew to love.
Boyles rapidly improved and soon met Jack Chase — a close friend to this day and current teammate on the Hawks.
Chase had already firmly cemented himself into the game of hockey upon Boyles’ arrival, and the two hit it off. Chase challenged Boyles to put his still very raw talent to the test and try out for Team Wyoming — a travel team that competes at a national level.
It was a rough baptism, one that didn’t go Boyles’ way for quite some time.
Boyles tried out for Team Wyoming as a 12-year old, just three years into the sport, and disappointingly got turned away when the roster shrunk following tryouts.
“I think coming from Douglas, and even working as hard as I did, I still hadn’t gotten there yet,” Boyles said. “But just being able to try out with those kids, at that higher level, showed me what I needed to do in order to get to that next step.”
So Boyles put his nose to the ice and worked, trained and sharpened his craft for the following year’s tryout.
As a 13-year old, Boyles was ready. He convinced himself that the second time would be different. He would not be awestruck by the talent level, and he had another year of hockey under his belt. But, similar to the year prior, Boyles walked away disappointed.
Not completely, though.
Boyles didn’t make the final roster but qualified as an alternate, meaning he could suit up in an if-needed scenario. That situation soon played out and Boyles had his stage, his opportunity to showcase his worth.
He capitalized on it.
After a couple kids dropped off the roster before the start of a tournament, Boyles filled in and shined, so much so that Boyles caught the eye of one of the coaches’ and would not soon be forgotten.
The next year — at the same August tryout time, the one that had turned him away in years past — Boyles made the final cut and got named a starter on Team Wyoming.
“It was crazy exciting,” Boyles said. “Playing at that next level, it was just insane. I remember being like, ‘Holy cow, this is good hockey and awesome hockey.’”
Team Wyoming traverses all over the United States and competes in tournaments against teams from every state. The organization has taken Boyles to Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, Utah and Wisconsin, among others.
Just a couple years ago, the Team Wyoming U16 team rallied from an early-stage loss against New Hampshire to win the 2016 National Championship — in Wayne, New Jersey — with a 4-2 win over Oklahoma City in the championship game.
Boyles and Chase celebrated together.
But Boyles’ fondest memory of Team Wyoming occurred when he and Chase traveled to Finland to compete in a few hockey games at an international level, a level Boyles had never seen before.
“Hockey over there is crazy different,” Boyles said. “It’s so much faster. That’s all they do — eat, sleep, breathe hockey — and they’re so good at it. It’s crazy compared to over here. I played over there, came back over here and everything was kind of in slow motion.”
Boyles got to stay at the Olympic Training Center and practiced, lifted and ate alongside professional players from Finland to cap a spectacular couple of weeks.
Boyles parlayed the success on Team Wyoming into an impressive ongoing, career with the Sheridan Hawks. The experience cultivated a skill set within Boyles not many high schoolers in the state can lay claim to. It also helped Boyles mature into the captain title he holds today.
“He’s a great leader, and he doesn’t need to speak up to be,” Viren said. “He lets his play on the ice speak for itself. He’s one of the hardest workers, consistently. He’s just a good teammate for the guys to follow.
“That’s the reason his teammates selected him as captain. It wasn’t a coach’s choice. We let the team choose our captains and overwhelming he was chosen. That speaks for itself.”
Those characteristics have drawn interest from a couple colleges that have kept in contact with Boyles. Augustana — a Division III school in Illinois — and Air Force appear as frontrunners for the Sheridan senior.
“I’m just trying to get myself up to the next level and get that chance,” Boyles said.
If you ask Boyles’ teammates, he’s already there.
“I think he has got a good shot if he does go to play college hockey,” Chase said. “I’d like to see him go somewhere, and I’d like to see him play somewhere.
“He has a good shot.”
But for now, Boyles will keep doing what he has done for years. The sport that wasn’t even a glimmer in Boyles’ eye has propelled him to a travel team boasting a National Championship, a trip to Europe and, hopefully, a trip to the NCAA hockey world.
“He’s not good by accident,” Viren said. “It’s hard work that has gotten him to where he’s at. He’s just a blue-collar kid.”