Midget AA’s breeze to title
“You can’t buy this hat. You have to earn it,” is stitched on the back of the Vail Sportsmanship Hockey Tournament championship hats.
The Vail Midget AA’s didn’t need their wallets. They earned their Sportsmanship Tournament championship, trophy and hats with ease, skating to a 5-0 victory over Aspen Sunday afternoon at Dobson.
The win avenged a ghastly 3-1 loss in the tournament opener to the Skiers, and sent a message to those same Skiers, whom Battle Mountain will face in the high school opener on Dec. 3. Most importantly, it gave the Mountaineers seniors – nine in all – a title in their final Sportmanship tourney, an event most of the players have been competing in since they were Mites and Squirts.
“We were all talking about it,” senior Nate Simon said. “It’s the last time we’re ever going to play in the Sportsmanship Tournament. We knew we had to come out with a bang, and we took them to it.”
“It feels good. I knew It was my last Vail tournament,” Jason Chase said. “I always look forward to playing in these just because it’s in our home rink and it always real fun to play in them. So, I definitely wanted to win it because it’s the last one ever.”
Speed the difference
The Mountaineers played like it. They were a completely different team Sunday against Aspen, as opposed to Friday’s performance.
“The biggest difference was the speed,” Vail coach Eric Lickteig said. “Anybody who saw both games could tell that there was a speed difference in our guys. If I knew the secret as to why they stepped out without speed Friday, we would have fixed it obviously at the end of the first period.”
Vail came out flying early and the first period was played almost entirely in the Aspen end. Max Miller, a Summit import who will be playing for Battle Mountain this winter, started the scoring. He came down the right side and patiently waited out Aspen goalie Julien Hernandez, beating him short side for a 1-0 lead.
While Vail was dominating the play, it was still a one-goal game late in the first until Keith Denton scored with just eight second left in the frame.
“We were shooting shots down low and Brad (Myers) gave me a pass in the slot and I just winged it at the net,” Denton said. “It found the upper corner. I didn’t even know.”
“We wanted it more tonight.’
With Aspen on the ropes, Vail couldn’t let the Skiers back in it – and it didn’t happen. Denton struck again with a wrap-around goal. For those scoring at home, that’s five in the last two games, and seven total on the weekend for Denton.
“We wanted it more tonight,” he said. “We wanted revenge. Friday, they embarrassed us in our tournament, so we came out and took it to them.”
About the only time it got scare was early in the third when Aspen held a two-man advantage for 1:37. But the defense and goalie Karl Eklund were more than up to the task.
“Karl’s the man. He stepped it up,” Simon said. “He knows when to step it up. He’s improved 110 percent since last year. He pulls out big games, two shutouts this tournament. He’s just one of those clutch goalies you can rely on.”
Vail put it away in the third period. Alex Biegler to Chase made it 4-0 with 11:26 left in the game.
“Biegler made a nice pass. He made a nice pass before and I choked,” Chase said with a smile. “But, then, I kind of capitalized the second time around. So, he gave me a nice pass and I kind of backhanded it.”
Garman and Miller to Simon iced the game, and the celebration was on. The Mountaineers mobbed Eklund, collected their hats and, then, captain P.J. Bevan, who played the entire game with a bad groin muscle, accepted the championship trophy. Of course, no tournament victory is complete without the team photo and, since this crew has won this tournament two times in the last three years, the guys knew the drill.
And, the celebration continued in the locker room.
“We’ve been partying. The water bottles are going and the sticky Powerade is there too. They’re a team that overcomes adversity and use whatever they have that is available. That applies to the celebration and the hard work on the ice,” Lickteig laughed.
Double win for Vail
The Vail Mountaineers collected a rare double Sunday, not only winning the tournament, but also claiming the Sportsmanship Award, given to the team with the fewest penalty minutes. Tournament director Beth Chow made the announcement after the game and, well, Denton really thought the trophy was going back to Pitkin County.
“Ms. Chow tricked us,” he said. “I thought we were going to lose that one.”
Vail ended up edging out Aspen by two minutes. First, it says a lot about these two programs, bitter archrivals on the ice, that they were both in the running for the award. Second, rarely, at the Midget level does the winning team take home the Sportsmanship Award.
“We want to make sure that we set a good example,” Lickteig said. “Coach (Jade) Kersey with Battle Mountain, as well as with Vail Junior Hockey, has always instilled discipline on every level that he coaches with. We talked to the players and hold them accountable their actions. They understand that now.
The tournament win also serves as a warning shot for the high school season. High school tryouts start this week and the Vail Mountaineers head to Denver next weekend to face the AAA Colorado Outlaws.
But the real goal is Dec. 3, when the high school season starts, ironically, against Aspen. In fact, the Huskies and Skiers, both state semifinalists the last two years, play twice in the regular season.
“It’s a pretty big lift,” Chase said. “I think it was more of saying, “Watch out.’ We definitely wanted to make a statement this game.”
“It’s bigger than just the tournament,” Simon said. “They are our season-opener for high school. We had to set the tone. We definitely did that today. We knew our last game (Friday against Aspen), that that wasn’t our team. We knew we had to set the momentum and give them something to look forward to the first game of high school.”
In the Midget A title game, Littleton edged Aspen, 2-1, in overtime. …
Hyland Minor won the Sportsmanship Award in the Midget A division. … Birthdays: Sharon Bernardo, mom of the Midget AA’s’ Ray, celebrated in the stands with chocolate cake during the first intermission of the Midget AA title game. Many happy returns also to Greg Garman. … The Sportsmanship Tournament concludes with the Pee Wee A’s, the Pee Wee B’s and and the Bantam B’s next weekend.
Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.