Red Dogs reap benefits from youth, experience in Craig
When Greg Neal took over as manager of the Craig Red Dogs Men’s hockey team seven years ago, his goal was to make the team more prominent.
“The first thing I did was get our team into a league,” Neal said. “The second was to add more tournaments to our schedule.”
The Red Dogs are now a member of the Steamboat Sunday Night League and just swept a tournament in Rock Springs, Wyo., over the first weekend of December.
Neal, who also plays right wing for the team, joined the Red Dogs as a player first in 1991.
That same year, one of the team’s youngest players and star goalie, Spencer Wayman, was born.
Four years before, in 1987, Blake Abdella, an evidence technician for the Craig Police Department, joined the team.
“The young kids push the older guys, yet the young kids learn from the old guys,” Neal said. “It is a good mix.”
In total, the team has 14 men on their roster, but Neal said they are lucky to have 10 guys show up for games.
“Sometimes guys have prior commitments and can’t make all the games,” he said. “It is something we have to work around, but it makes it tough to win.”
The team plays 35 games from Nov. 1 to March 1. During the summer, players still keep in shape by doing dry land training – running, riding bikes and sometimes, running triathlons together.
Neal said when he moved to Craig, he sought out guys who played hockey and started to go to drop-in games before officially joining the Red Dogs.
When he took the manager position, he had no coaching experience.
“It was a smooth transition,” he said. “We have a good group of guys, so there wasn’t any big hurdles.”
The team is sporting a 6-6 record thus far this season, but only a 2-6 record in the league.
“We have a thin roster when competing in games, sometimes with just seven or eight players showing up,” Neal said.
With one of the smallest rosters the team has ever had, Neal said the team didn’t pick up any new players when some didn’t return for this season.
“We try to recruit from the (Moffat County) Midgets team and put advertising out around the beginning of the season,” he said. “It was an off-year for recruiting.”
Still, Neal said the team has competed by having a solid defense and a young offense.
“On defense, we are anchored by guys like Jim Neton, Lance Scranton and Tom Heeney,” he said. “Two young guns, Colt Chriswell and Mike Armstrong, lead our offense.
“Some teams may have more finesse than us, but we are a real gritty team.”
Armstrong, 24, joined the Red Dogs when he graduated from Moffat County High School in 2004.
“I like to play hockey and I didn’t want to travel to Steamboat (Springs) to have to do it,” he said. “We have a really close team.”
Agreeing with Neal, Armstrong, who plays center for the Red Dogs, said the age range on the team helps everyone.
“We have a lot of youth on the team, which is good for the long run,” he said. “There are also a lot of seasoned guys on the team who have been playing for a long time, so the two mix well.”
The team plays their next game at 8:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at the Moffat County Ice Arena, 600 Ranney St.
Neal said the team is always looking for interested players, and the ice arena has a drop-in hockey session for experienced hockey players at 5:45 and 6 p.m. every Sunday and Monday, respectively.
“(Hockey) is a great sport for all ages,” Neal said. “It gives the youth and the older guys access to play competitively.”
An officer with the Steamboat Springs Police Department was fired Wednesday amid a criminal investigation of a domestic violence incident in June.