Emily Mahanna, 14, practices Tuesday with her fellow Craig Cougars at the Moffat County Ice Arena. The Cougars recently hosted the Mini Jamboree, which included teams from across the Western Slope.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Emily Mahanna, 14, practices Tuesday with her fellow Craig Cougars at the Moffat County Ice Arena. The Cougars recently hosted the Mini Jamboree, which included teams from across the Western Slope.

Hockey Mini Jamboree full of hits and a few goals

Visions of hockey greats like Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic and Mario Lemieux skate through their minds as they put on their pads and skates before practice Tuesday.

To the members of Craig Cougars' boys and girls hockey - the peewee team comprised of 11 and 12-year olds, and the bantam team consisting of 13 and 14-year olds - each day skating after a black rubber puck is a like a game in the National Hockey League.

"We always talk about wanting to be like a famous NHL player," Cougar forward Conner Pogline said. "We're just not that good yet."

The teams got their chance to show off their skills Jan. 16 to 18 at the Moffat County Ice Arena.

The third annual Mini Jamboree hockey tournament concluded Sunday.

The event featured teams from four towns - Craig, Kremmling, Durango and Crested Butte - that fielded a team in each age group.

The result?

Three days of competitive youth hockey between eight teams.

"You get a lot of home games and a lot of ice time," Cougars bantam coach Rick Villa said. "The competition level increases so much more for this event."

Maybe a little too much.

The bantam team finished the event with an 0-3-1 record, and the peewee team 1-2-1.

"They learned that they can skate with every team in the league," Villa said. "Some of the games can be really physical. But, they learned how to skate hard, and never give up."

The physical side of the game - namely checking, which begins at the peewee level - is an attribute that leads many youths to the ice.

Even girls.

"They hit me harder," bantam team captain Kelsie Pomeroy said of the boys she plays against. "I actually kind of like it. It's part of the game, although I did get floored once when I got hit really hard."

Checking aside, peewee coach Jason Porter said some good hockey was played last weekend.

"We teach them all the fundamentals out here and then let them loose on the ice," he said. "Sometimes, it's kind of like controlled chaos, but it's what all these kids love."

The bantam team saved its best performance for last.

After losing its first three games, the Cougars battled to a scoreless tie with Durango.

Craig goalie Trent Parrott earned the shutout, stopping 46 shots.

Parrott said when he was on, the puck looked like the size of a basketball.

"I was just trying to make sure I stopped everything," he said.

Making spectacular saves isn't just reserved for bantam net minders.

Peewee goalie Riley O'Leary has the bruises to prove it.

"I saved a slap shot and that's what I got," he said as he lifted his jersey and exposed a brown and yellow mark on his stomach. "But, I made the save, didn't I?"

The teams didn't win the event, but to them, it was more about having fun and getting ready for the next level.

As long is that next level allows checking.

"It was really fun," Danny White said. "It's awesome to lay people out, but it's cool to see all the chicks, too."

That is, as long as the chicks aren't on the opposite team.

"It's pretty fun because you get to beat up on the guys," bantam winger Taylor Shrode said. "Hitting the boys is the best part."

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