Combined Craig, Steamboat hockey team Northwest Colorado Blizzard storms the ice
Opening weekend for Bantam group takes three losses to West Elk; players adjusting
The first weekend for a brand new regional team wasn’t easy, but coaches anticipate the joining of two towns will only get better.
The Northwest Colorado Blizzard took the ice for the first time as a group Saturday and Sunday with games against West Elk in both Steamboat Springs and Craig.
The 14 and under squad is a mixture of Steamboat and Craig athletes who have joined forces to play in the Bantam B division of the Continental Divide Youth Hockey League.
Last year, Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association had a sparse amount of players at the Bantam level and Craig Youth Hockey Association was completely unable to field a team, leading to the two entities to create a combined effort this season, helped along by SSYHA Director Brian Ripley.
Practices as a singular group have been limited so far, and the opening weekend was a rough one for the Blizzard — the Wolverines took a 6-1 win Saturday in Steamboat, followed by dual 5-1 victories over the Northwest Colorado bunch Sunday in Craig.
“This is the first time these guys have ever skated together, and for a lot of that very first period, it was a lot of, ‘Who are you?’” said Steamboat-based coach Chris Zuschlag. “We’re going to try and make a lot more effort to practice at least once together before a game.”
Still, coaches and players take consolation in the fact they were able to score in each outing. Alex Colby notched the first goal with assists by Brady Fowler and Ezra Moyer, while Fowler netted one in the second game off a pass by Chase Delamater.
Delamater likewise put one past the Wolverine keeper off a backhand shot during a second period power play in the third game.
As one of the Steamboat components of the Blizzard, he said it’s still taking some adjustment to playing in two different rinks on a regular basis and teammates he barely knwos.
“It’s different because we haven’t skated together, and it’s hard getting together for practice,” he said, adding he believes it will get easier as the season goes.
Craig’s Clay Durham said he was pleased to be able to keep playing after moving on from the Peewee level after CYHA Bantams’ 2015-16 season didn’t come together. He’s less concerned with who he plays with than if the group can mesh as a team.
“Right now it’s just trying to figure out where everybody is, getting to know where to pass to them and crashing the net,” he said.
In order to set apart the combined group, organizers opted for completely new uniforms. Rather than Steamboat red and black or the Craig Cougars’ color scheme styled after the Colorado Avalanche, the Blizzard jerseys bear orange and white akin to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Craig coach John Doane said Yampa Valley Bank aided in getting the new outfits.
“We didn’t want to have any Craig or Steamboat colors because we truly are a Northwest Colorado team,” he said. “I’m excited, just glad we have a team, and I think we’ll continue to grow and be successful here shortly.”
The Blizzard will play at home only briefly. This weekend is another series of three games, this time against Grand Junction, followed by Steamboat’s Ski Town Classic Tournament in early December.
After that, the team will be on the road for the remainder of the season.
“Right now, yeah, it matters if we win or lose, but what I’m looking for is constant improvement all the way through,” Zuschlag said. “That’s what they’ve had so far.”
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