Ice flowing through their veins |

Ice flowing through their veins

Matt Terrell
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyJason Funk (25) and the Huskies hockey team started the season Friday night with a loss to Aspen. The Huskies host Steamboat Springs today at 9 a .m., followed by Summit County at 5 p.m. at Dobson Arena.

Kodi Wyatt’s love of hockey may have started on a tennis court.His grandfather, Jerry Sibley, used to play on the ice-covered courts at Golden Peak in the late 1960s before Vail had an ice arena. Sibley said he and his teammates were often reduced to games of broom-ball, but they had fun anyway.Fast forward a few years, and Wyatt’s mother, grandmother and aunt are busting heads with the Vail Breakaways in a women’s league. The trio was lovingly referred to as the “Check Sisters.”Now Wyatt, 16, is a junior at Battle Mountain High School, and his sister, Tasha Wyatt, 14, plays on a team with the Vail Eagle Hockey Association. Their family’s seemingly hereditary love of the sport is just one indication of a steadily growing and vibrant youth-hockey culture in the Vail Valley.

Wyatt, like many of his teammates, started skating at the age of 3 and playing hockey at the age of 5, he said. The trend is widespread, with kids starting earlier and more kids every year becoming interested in the sport.The boom in interest in the Vail Valley can be attributed to a few things, according to Barry Biegler, president of the Vail Eagle Hockey Association. He said one of the biggest boosts to the hockey culture is the drive of several small mountain towns to build ice rinks. Every time one opens, like the one in Eagle, it automatically builds interest in hockey, he said.”It’s a kind of ‘if you build it, they will come’ philosophy,” Biegler said. It also helps that the Vail Eagle Hockey Association expanded its programs and created recreational teams for the more casual players at all ages. Doing this allowed parents and students not ready for the travel bills and commitment required of competitive playing to enjoy a game of hockey.”Some people really want to play just a few games close to home,” Biegler said. “It’s expensive to play with a competitive team because you have to travel to the Denver area and get hotel rooms and things like that. It’s very time consuming.”As more kids joined the youth hockey leagues, a sort of pyramid effect happened with the high school. The core of young players grew every year, and the growth can be seen at the high school level.

“Each year we had more kids interested, and those kids want to join high school hockey,” Biegler said. “That’s what you see on the news, and they say, ‘Hey, I want to do that.'”More students than ever tried out for the 25 coveted spots on the Huskies roster this year, according to head coach Gary Defina. He expects those numbers to keep growing.”I see all the young kids out in the stands, and they enjoy the game and want to be a part of it someday,” said Barrett Chow, a junior center on the Huskies. He’s been playing hockey since the age of 7, following in the footsteps of his brother.Defina attributes much of the growth in youth hockey to excitement in response to the arrival of the Colorado Avalanche 10 years ago.”When they came around, that spurred a lot of kids in the entire region,” he said.With the Wyatts and their family, involvement with youth hockey was more of a family tradition, the kind normally associated with a father giving his son a baseball glove.

“We definitely have a hockey family,” Wyatt said. “My grandparents took me to Avon Lake when I was young and taught me to play. I never thought it was odd that my grandmother and mother and aunt played too.”==========Huskies hockeyThe Huskies lost 3 to 1 against the Aspen Skiers Friday night in their first game of the season as part of the Mountain Tournament. They’ll play Steamboat at 9 a.m. Friday at Dobson Arena and Summit at 5 p.m.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO

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