The Craig Cougar Pee Wee hockey team wasn't expected to make it this far. They didn't even have ice time scheduled for this week at the Loudy-Simpson Ice Arena.
The pee wees found ice time and have prepared all week for the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association's state championships -- a four-team single elimination tournament that begins tonight in Littleton.
While college basketball looks for a Cinderella story this weekend, the pee wees already have started their own.
That's because the Cougars weren't expected to win the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League tournament; considering the Glenwood Springs Grizzlies defeated them twice in the regular season, 6-1, 4-3. They defeated the Grizzlies twice in the tournament to win the title.
Things won't be any easier this week, especially with the timing of the tournament. The Pee Wee B championships take place during spring break.
The Cougars have been limited this week in practice because of absences from break.
"I'm a little nervous," Christian Pettigrew said after Wednesday's practice, which was attended by less than half the team. "We haven't had the whole team here."
Practices were rather informal this week, but things will be serious at 8:15 tonight.
The Cougars will face the Hyland Hills black team. The other side of the bracket are the Foothills' No. 1 and No. 2 teams.
The Craig team has not played anyone from the Front Range this season, but it did play a team from Littleton last year.
"They went in a little intimidated," coach Terry Pettigrew said. "It took them a period to figure out they could skate with them."
There will be no extra chances for the Cougars to figure things out tonight.
"We're going in focusing on defense," the coach said. "We have no idea what we're facing, but defense wins games."
Jarrod Stillion made it to all of the practices during the week. He had a good idea of what his team needed to improve on.
"We need to play physical and work on blind passes," he said. "We have worked on positioning this week."
This is the first year the RMYHL has been invited to play for a state championship on the Front Range.
They are classified at a B-level, which is a league that is in the middle of the pack on the eastern side of the mountains.
Pettigrew said they aren't even given much credit from most Front Rangers.
"They consider us a C-level recreation club," he said. "But I think once we skate with them they'll know."
If the Cougars win tonight, they will move on into the championship at 9 a.m. Saturday. Win or lose, they know they have paved the way for Craig teams by being the first to qualify for the state tournament.
"It has been a great positive experience," coach Pettigrew said. "It speaks well of our program."
David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org