Cougars ready for home ice

Three age groups have season openers at Loudy-Simpson Ice Arena Saturday

As far as home openers go, the Craig Cougar midgets hope that this year's go much better than last year's.

"It hasn't been confirmed that they'll be there yet," said coach Darin Hickey of his team's first scheduled opponent, Steamboat Springs. "I'm pretty sure they'll show."

Last year the Loudy-Simpson ice arena was standing room only in anticipation of the midget's home opener against Steamboat. But the Yampa Valley rivals were a no show.

This season starts with almost more anticipation for the Cougars. The defending Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League champions return all but three players from last year's team and have five new players moving up from the bantams.

"We are stronger than last year," Hickey said. "They came in real eager this year."

Last week, the midgets, made up of high school age athletes, played in Breckenridge and swept Summit, 6-1, 7-3. While it's early, Hickey has been impressed with the play of goalie Malcom Hillewaert.

"I don't know what happened but he has really improved," Hickey said. "We can't score on him past the blue line."

The midgets will play one game, which begins at 6:30 p.m. The midgets' game will be the fifth of the day on the ice at Loudy-Simpson. They will follow double headers for the peewees and squirts age groups.

The squirts are also defending league champions but as the youngest age group, nine and 10 year olds, they have a lot of new players. The Cougars return five players from last year's team and add 12 new skaters.

Last week, the squirts traveled to Durango and took the season's first two games, 3-0, 2-0.

"Our five returners are on defense," said coach Mark Samuelson. "We have a very tough defense to score on."

The Cougars will have a chance to measure where they are at Saturday with a double header against the runners up from last year, Kremmling.

The games are at 9:15 and 11:45 a.m.

Sandwiched before and in between the squirts, at 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., are the 11- and 12-year-old peewees against Kremmling. The runners up in last year's league retained most of that team and, unlike the other two age groups this weekend, the peewees haven't played an official game yet.

"This is the first year for checking for some of them," said assistant coach Frank Baron. "So they're anxious to get out and play as well as hit someone other than themselves."

Baron said the peewees are at a level now where teamwork is vitally important.

"In the younger leagues, one or two hot shots can skate through a team," he said. "But now passing is what wins games."

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com.

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