Craig Bulldogs midget hockey player Brodey Gutierrez hustles toward the puck during a game against Rock Springs, Wyo., earlier this year in Craig. The midget team’s Colorado Amateur Hockey Association season is underway, with games against Durango coming up this weekend.

Photo by Nate Waggenspack

Craig Bulldogs midget hockey player Brodey Gutierrez hustles toward the puck during a game against Rock Springs, Wyo., earlier this year in Craig. The midget team’s Colorado Amateur Hockey Association season is underway, with games against Durango coming up this weekend.

Craig hockey brings wealth of experience to the ice

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Cade Bangs, center, skates along the boards at the Moffat County Ice Arena. Bangs is one of seven high school seniors that give the Craig midget hockey team experience for the 2013-14 season.

2013-14 hockey schedule

Saturday at Durango/Telluride in Telluride, 5 p.m.

Sunday at Durango/Telluride in Telluride, 7 and 10:30 a.m.

Jan. 4 at Hyland, noon

Jan. 4 at Arvada, 5 p.m.

Jan. 5 at Arvada, 9:15 a.m.

Jan. 5 at Hyland, 3:45 p.m.

Jan. 18 vs. Crested Butte, 4:30 and 8 p.m.

Jan. 19 vs. Crested Butte, 7:45 and 11:15 a.m.

Jan. 24 vs. Littleton, 9 p.m.

Jan. 25 vs. Littleton, 9:30 a.m.

Jan. 25 vs. Arapahoe, 8 p.m.

Jan. 26 vs. Arapahoe, 9:30 a.m.

Feb. 1 at Gunnison, 5 and 8 p.m.

Feb. 2 at Gunnison, 9:30 a.m.

Feb. 22 vs. Glenwood Springs, 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

In a tough league with lots of talented opponents, the Craig Bulldogs midget hockey team is counting on its experience to be the difference-maker.

The midget hockey team, composed of 14- to 18-year-old players, plays in a Colorado Amateur Hockey Association league against other teams from the Western Slope and Front Range. The Bulldogs have seven high school seniors on their team this year, giving them a team that knows more about what to expect against opponents who usually start the winter season sharper than Craig since they benefit from time on the ice earlier in the year.

“It gets tough" in our league, said Cade Bangs, team captain. “But a lot of us, we’ve all played since we were little, and we’ve got the same mindset. We all want to win.”

The Bulldogs have played one game in their competitive league schedule so far, a 10-1 loss at Glenwood Springs on Nov. 23. But as the league season gets going in earnest this weekend, the players are feeling more comfortable with where they stand.

“We’re in a good spot, I think,” Tyler Gerber said about the team’s current form. “We’re starting to really click as a team. It hasn’t shown up yet on the scoreboard because we’ve been playing tough teams. But we’re starting to get a lot better and figuring out how each other play.”

Without a huge hockey following, Craig always relies on its newcomers to be a big part of the team’s game play, which means the Bulldogs typically are learning new shifts and playing with new teammates on the ice each year. This year’s group of young players is good, and they are starting to get used to playing with one another.

“We’ve got a lot of individual talent, but we need to figure out how to work as a team,” Sarah White said. “We’re still trying to find those strong lines, and we’ve had some people miss games, so that hasn’t been easy to figure out. But we’re getting to where we can trust each other more on the ice.”

The veteran players on the team see that continued growth as an important aspect of the team’s success this season. Playing a fundamental, fast game will also be key.

“Communication and passing are the biggest parts of the game, so we’ve got to do that well,” Brenden Spencer said. “We also want to play at a high pace. To do that, we’ve got to have quick shifts and keep the game moving.”

The team has been doing dry-land conditioning in addition to its regular practices to be in the best shape possible when games roll around. It hopes to be a top-tier team in CAHA this season.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs because the past couple years, we’ve come up short,” Bangs said. “So that’s what we’re playing for.”

Contact Nate Waggenspack at 970-875-1795 or nwaggenspack@CraigDailyPress.com.

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