Teams Shine, Continue Development at Inaugural Otter Cup Pond Hockey Tournament
When the January 30-31, 2016, Colorado Elite Mites tournament was cancelled due to unexpected construction delays at the new Ice Ranch in Superior, Colorado, Mites parents and coaches on the Front Range immediately brainstormed Plan B’s.
The solution – identified barely eight days before the scheduled tournament dates – was to move the tournament to the mountainous and picturesque Red Feather Lakes, Colorado area, about one hour northwest of Fort Collins.
But this was more than just a venue change. The new location, on the grounds of the Beaver Meadows Ranch Resort, would be held on the area’s frozen fishing ponds. Instead of ten-foot-tall boards and plexiglass, thick logs would stop pucks from leaving the ice. Instead of standard goals (and goalies), players could fire the puck into wooden boxes. Other traditional pond hockey rules applied as well.
The plan synced up perfectly with the already-scheduled Beaver Cup pond hockey tournament, an annual adult tournament planned for the following weekend on the same ice. A team of volunteers from the Fort Collins Pond Hockey League, with help from the Colorado Junior Eagles and Colorado Yeti youth hockey programs, rallied into action and scrambled to build the rinks and pull together a tournament in time for the kids.
The Colorado Yeti brought two teams of Mites players to the tournament and played round-robin-style against players from youth hockey programs from Boulder Valley Ice (Superior, CO) and the Junior Eagles (Fort Collins, CO).
Day One saw unseasonably warm temperatures – even in the mountains, where the tournament was held. The ice held together well for the morning matches, but got too soft for play in the afternoon. Play was suspended for the day just as a weather front rolled in, bringing much colder temperatures and about four inches of snow, powder-coating the valley into an image worth of a Courier and Ives art print.
The turn of events was welcomed be many, and was a great reminder that Mother Nature runs the show. Many kids used the postponement as a chance to go snow tubing or rest up for a busy next day.
After an army of parents and kids shoveled late into the night on Saturday, and the Beaver Meadows staff flooded the ponds twice, play resumed mid-morning on Sunday amid temperatures in the teens.
The younger of the two Colorado Yeti teams fought hard in their remaining three round-robin games, showing rapid improvement from start to finish. “Playing a style where only four players go at a time, on a much smaller surface, gives every player a chance at so many puck touches,” says Colorado Yeti coach Tony Zurn.
Yeti Mites Coach Nick Kakasenko adds, “When they are forced to play on outdoor ice that’s not perfectly smooth, it pushes them to focus hard. The next time they skate indoors, it should be that much easier for them.”
The older of the Colorado Yeti teams, made primarily of players born in 2007, also showed improvement throughout the tournament. After losing to the Warriors White team from Fort Collins in the round-robin round, they rebounded to defeat them 6-1 in the tournament semifinals on Sunday afternoon.
The championship game pitted the Colorado Yeti against the Warriors Blue team, also from Fort Collins. While the game was close for much of the time, the Warriors pulled away in the closing several minutes and became the first-ever team to hoist the Otter Cup.
“The Colorado Yeti team was proud to head home with a second-place showing here,” says Kakasenko. “A lot happened that players from both teams can build on – without a doubt, playing outside, in these conditions, made every one of them a better hockey player. Plus, they had a blast!”
The Colorado Yeti program now begins its preparations for two remaining late-winter mites tournaments. Watch for them to show continued progress through March before they begin their spring session.
Barely 24 hours passed after the Inaugural Otter Cup Elite Mites Winter Classic before talk brewed of a second annual edition of the tournament next January.
“This event was a smashing success,” says Garett Graubins, one of the tournament organizers and father of a Colorado Yeti player. “The kids definitely left the ponds this weekend with a ton of incredible memories. Some of them joked that now they know what it’s like to play hockey like a Canadian.”
For information on the Colorado Yeti program, visit www.ColoradoEliteHockey.com.
Watch for details of the 2017 Otter Cup Winter Classic in fall 2016.
Tag(s): Yeti News