For the first time in 10 attempts, the Craig Red Dogs did something that Craig teams before them could not do they came away from Rock Springs, Wyo., as tournament champions. Propelled by an amazing offensive performance by newcomer Kris Heilman, and strong goaltending by Steve Ivers, the Red Dogs were able to come away victorious.
Heilman's offensive statistics would make Wayne Gretzky envious. In four games, he tallied 14 goals and eight assists.
"Those are basketball stats," said line mate Blake Abdella, who was the recipient of most of the eight assists Heilman dished out.
The first game was a rout in which the Red Dogs employed solid fundamental defense with controlled breakouts. This game plan worked as the Dogs rolled over a weak Laramie, Wyo., squad, 14-0.
Game two was a rematch of last year's championship game against Vernal, Utah. The Red Dogs seemed flat and mental mistakes were their eventual downfall. Former Craig resident Eric Schillie, who now plays for Vernal, thought the reason for the sloppy play was because a few of the Craig players went out and enjoying Rock Springs nightlife. Whatever the reason Craig lost 6-4.
Game three was against the host team, Rock Springs. A win or a tie would give Craig a shot at redemption against Vernal in the championship game, but they had to beat a superior-skating Rock Springs group. The defensive wall of James Neaton, Lance Scranton, Tony Erikson, and Mike Schulte made life between the posts for goaltender Steve Ivers a little easier. Ivers played his best game of the season said Coach Tom Nagoda as Craig came away with a hard-fought tie and a shot at the title.
In the title game, the Red Dogs came out with the same intensity and discipline they showed in the Rock Springs game. Heilman again was the offensive star as he lit the lamp for his last four goals in a romp of the defending champs from Vernal.
"The victory was very sweet for our team, the monkey is off our back," said James Neaton.
"It's exciting to watch a team that begins to play as a cohesive unit and gains success on the ice," said Coach Nagoda.
The Red Dogs would like to thank McCandless Animal Hospital, The Hockey Shop, Eye Care Specialties, and Craig Chiropractic Clinic for their financial support this season and hope their support continues. Their help made the season-ending tournament a winning end to a fun season. (Tom Nagoda is the Craig Red Dogs hockey team coach.)