The Galactic Ice facility has afforded legions of area athletes the opportunity to play competitive youth and scholastic ice hockey, but until this fall, none of its players had ever moved on to play at the NCAA Division I college level.
In the space of one week this past November, however, that all changed, as two former members of the Altoona Trackers and Hollidaysburg Area High School programs, Sam Lafferty and Rachel Khalouf, verbally committed to Division I hockey programs.
Lafferty, who is currently a senior forward at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, will play collegiate men's hockey at Brown University in Rhode Island beginning in 2015, while Khalouf, who is currently a junior defenseman with both the Shadyside Academy and Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U19 girls ice hockey teams, will play college women's hockey at the University of Vermont, also starting in 2015.
Lafferty played his freshman and sophomore prep years as a member of the Hollidaysburg program and has played six seasons for the Mid-State Mustangs, a central Pennsylvania hockey program that has won five straight state championships and also captured a national title back in 2011.
"Growing up, the Trackers and Mustangs definitely provided a good foundation for me, and I've had a good experience up here at Deerfield,'' Lafferty, 18, said. "Being here has given me opportunities that I would otherwise have never had.''
The same will be said for Lafferty's future at Brown University in Providence, R.I.
"When I went to visit, I really liked the campus and its setting in the town of Providence,'' said Lafferty, who will spend the 2014-15 hockey season playing amateur hockey in either the United States Hockey League or the British Columbia Hockey League before heading to Brown. "I really connected with the coaching staff and I met some of the players and I liked them, too. When I stepped on campus, I felt that it was a place where I could really see myself being happy.''
Mike Bowman, who was Lafferty's coach with the national-champion Mustangs, said that Lafferty's skill level in the game is equaled by his knowledge of the sport.
"Ability-wise, he's one of the best players that I've coached,'' Bowman said. "His knowledge of the game, and how he sees the game, is far advanced from that of a lot of the other players. It's that combination of everything that makes him a complete player.''
Like Lafferty, Khalouf was a member of the Altoona Trackers boys hockey program during her formative years in the sport. She also played on Hollidaysburg's freshman hockey team as an eighth-grader, before transferring to Shadyside Academy in the Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel at the beginning of her sophomore year.
"Transferring to Shadyside has given me the opportunity to be out on the ice every day, practice my skills, and grow as a hockey player,''said Khalouf, who said she picked Vermont over Northeastern University. "I have great coaches at Shadyside, but I also had great coaches when I was with the Altoona Trackers.''
One of them was Dave Weaver, who Khalouf saluted as "a great coach who really started my hockey career.''
Weaver is also Lafferty's stepfather and former coach, and played a large positive role in Lafferty's personal and hockey development. Weaver said that Khalouf has paid her dues to accomplish what she has accomplished.
"Rachel is one of the hardest-working players that I've ever coached,'' he said. "She has deserved everything she has received. We're all very, very proud of her that she's been able to sign with a high-level college hockey program like Vermont.''