Cougar midget hockey team conquers league tournament

Losing against Vernal and Steamboat Springs within weeks of the Rock Mountain Youth Hockey League tournament worried Craig Cougar midget coach Darrin Hickey.

In retrospect, it wasn't that obtrusive of a roadblock.

"The regular season didn't mean much, because everybody made the tournament," he said. "I think they had a hard time playing because it didn't mean everything."

The Cougars came out inspired in the tournament.

They defeated Steamboat, 5-2, on Friday night and then Vernal, 5-3, to earn the championship for the Northern Division of the RMYHL

"They came out and played their game," Hickey said.

When the Cougars play their kind of hockey, Hickey said, they are aggressive and they use their speed.

Jacob Pearson burned Steamboat with his speed three times. He earned a hat trick, and Brett Lindgren added two goals.

Goalies Malcolm Hillewaert and Bryce Ponikvar combined in the goal against Steamboat.

The Cougars hosted Vernal Saturday. The visitors opened up a 1-0 lead, but Mike Armstrong scored two straight in the first period. Scott Smith added another in the first, and the Cougars went up 3-2. Chris Preston scored the eventual game winner. Lindgren added an insurance goal.

"I didn't think we played that much better against Vernal than we did last time," Hickey said. "But (Vernal) was down."

The win qualified the Cougars for the RMYHL championship tournament this weekend in Eagle. The first- and second- place finishers in the RMHYL North, Central and South divisions all meet up to earn a berth into the state finals against the winners of the Continental League and Colorado Competitive League the week after.

Steamboat will be representing the North with Craig, because Vernal doesn't play on Sundays.

The Cougars will play the winner of the Glenwood Springs/ Telluride game. That faceoff is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. Saturday. The tournament is a double-elimination format.

Last year, the Cougars finished third in the RMHYL. Two years ago, they were the league champions.

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