It used to be that the Craig Red Dog hockey team would hope and pray for freezing weather before the annual Red Dog Invitational. Sub-zero temperatures meant frozen ice on the non-refrigerated ink. Now all it means is that the gear is going to be really cold when they put it on for practice.
"We used to have to wait until 9:30 at night for the ice to completely freeze and then we'd play until two in the morning," said John Doane. "The tournament times are a lot more normal and the ice is more consistent now that it's refrigerated."
Recreational teams from Denver, Grand Junction, Laramie, Wyo., Rock Springs, Wyo., Steamboat and Vernal, Utah, will be in town this weekend for the annual hockey tournament.
The tournament is set in round-robin format with three games for each team and those records decide the seeding for the championship round Sunday. The Red Dogs open up at 7:30 tonight and will play twice Saturday.
Preceding the Red Dog's first game will be a tailgate cookout starting around 6 p.m. and running through the night.
"Before the refrigerated ice, the tailgate cookout was probably the only real reason people came," Doane said. "We're crazy to be out there in sub-zero temperatures but it's a memorable experience."
Just because the cookout is one of the more memorable parts of the tournament it doesn't mean the hockey is poor.
"There is some quality hockey played," said Tom Nagoda. "We're not out here to live out our NHL dreams, but were out here to have fun and stay conditioned."
The Craig team has players from the ages of 18 to 55 and is regularly one of the older teams to play. The game isn't as physical with it being a non-check recreational tournament but the quality of players is still considered high.
"Supposedly a former NHL player is coming up from Grand Junction," Doane said. "We always have guys complain that this isn't a recreational tournament because of the talent."
Scott Silva, a newcomer to the Red Dogs, will not play in the tournament because he just joined two practices ago but he said he likes what he has seen so far.
"This is a good group of guys who take it for what it is," he said. "They're not out to take cheap shots and they're not too serious either. I look forward to getting out there and playing with them soon."
The tournament kicks off the season for the team that had a .500 record last season, but finished strong in a tie for first at the regional tournament.
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or email@example.com.