Jim Neton, left, and Lance Scranton take a break during the Craig Red Dogs hockey practice to watch a scrimmage Wednesday at the Moffat County Ice Arena.  The Red Dogs are one of 10 teams participating in the Yampa Valley Invite at the Moffat County Ice Arena. The tournament starts Friday, with the championship game Sunday.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Jim Neton, left, and Lance Scranton take a break during the Craig Red Dogs hockey practice to watch a scrimmage Wednesday at the Moffat County Ice Arena. The Red Dogs are one of 10 teams participating in the Yampa Valley Invite at the Moffat County Ice Arena. The tournament starts Friday, with the championship game Sunday.

Red Dogs Hockey hosts Yampa Valley Invite

If you go

What: Yampa Valley Invite hockey tournament

When: 5:45 p.m. Friday, 7 a.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Moffat County Ice Arena in Craig

• For more information, call 824-3011

— It began almost 15 years ago.

A handful of Craig men who couldn't tame their inner hockey demon decided to start a tournament devoted to their chosen love.

Thus, the origins of the Yampa Valley Invite.

The tournament initially started with four teams, which skated, passed and shot the puck underneath the Moffat County sky.

Fast forward to this weekend, when 10 teams will converge on the Moffat County Ice Arena for a three-day tournament, playing under a roof with lights and : no puddles?

"We used to have to skate around the puddles that formed on the ice from all the condensation," said Jim Neton, a Craig Red Dogs defensemen and team coach. "We had to play at 4 in the morning before. We had no roof, so the sun melted the ice during the day."

The building has been upgraded, as has the competition.

What began with four fledgling teams grew into a competitive three-day event filled with 10 squads in search of bringing home some championship hardware.

The Red Dogs have yet to win the home tournament since its inception. Craig finished second in 1997, and third in 2004, something team manager and right-winger Greg Neal said the Red Dogs are trying to change this year.

"Everybody is fired up," he said. "We are holding a couple of special practices this week. We'll do some different drills."

Two, five-team brackets will compete against one another in a round robin format beginning Friday and finishing Saturday. The first-place team in bracket A will face off with the first-place team in bracket B during the championship round Sunday. Second place in A will play second in B for overall third place, and so on.

The biggest home event of the year for the Red Dogs is also the fastest.

The teams play two 12-minute periods with a continuously running clock, followed by a third period in which time will stop with the whistle.

"It makes it a fast tournament," Neton said, "in both respects. We play a faster paced game than what is normally seen here in town, and the clock runs faster, too."

Regardless of the tournament's outcome for the home team, Neal said he expects a fun time for all involved - on the ice, or watching from outside of it.

"It should be a lot of fun," he said. "It's the best men's hockey you'll see; and it's free."

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