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Mosquitoes show bite as Huskies

For the second year, Battle Mountain hockey, which plays Kent Denver tonight at the Air Force Academy, is on the cusp of a state championship. Any chance at a state title is precious. But when you remember how long these guys have been playing together, what they’ve been through and what they represent, this is a special moment.

For all of its international reputation, Vail is still a small hockey town. It’s matter of family – both literally and figuratively. Just take a look at this year’s squad.

Jason and Chris are the fifth and sixth Chases to lace them up for Vail Junior Hockey/Battle Mountain. Captain P.J. Bevan follows Terry and Brian. Keith Denton? He doubtless skated in his early days in hand-me-downs from Kyle and Kevin. Eric Hansen, Andrew Thompson and Turi Olson among others are tracing their older brothers’ footsteps.

“It’s kind of hard living up to what they did,” Keith says. “Kyle went to nationals and played on AAA. But P.J. and I and all the others try to do our best.”

And, in the process, these guys have formed lifetime bonds on road trips, practices and locker-room discussions. After all, you’ve got to be close with a guy whom you’ve been trying to get to laugh so milk will squirt out of his nose for all those years.

“We’ve been through everything together and we know each other better than any other team,” junior Nate Simon said. “We’re one of the only areas in the state that has the opportunity to do that. So it’s pretty special.”

A lot of these kids started in Vail Junior Hockey’s Mosquito program, where they learned to skate before they became Mini Mites.

“I remember stepping on the ice and falling,” senior Steve Reid recalls. “I didn’t think I was ever going to learn.”

“I always got upset because I couldn’t lift the puck,” Bevan said.

It’s safe to say that Reid can now move with the best of them and Bevan’s shot can get some air time.

Of course, Reid wasn’t always destined to be a fast-skating forward. He started his hockey days between the pipes. Should Huskies goalies Eric Hansen or Karl Eklund be worried about some competition?

“I was about a two on a scale of one to 10,” Reid said. “I was terrible.”

Reid’s experiences aside, some trends started emerging. Sophomore Austin Chow says he doesn’t even remember learning how to skate when he was a Mosquito, wearing No. 99 like every young kid rightly didat that time. It’s seems he felt pretty comfortable on the ice with a twig in his hand.

“I started skating early and I think that helped,” Chow said. “I loved being out there with friends. I loved the speed. As it progressed it just got better and better.”

Then there’s Jason Chase, who started at 5.

“I was just looking up to the Pee Wees, just waiting until I could hit. They seemed super big, for sure.”

Before last year’s loss to Cheyenne Mountain in double overtime in the state final, there were two defining moments for the players of this year’s Battle Mountain team. One is when this current crop of juniors won the Squirt A state title over Littleton in 1996. The Squirt A’s rallied for a goal with 15 seconds left on Littleton’s own ice to win 4-3.

“The Littleton fans were as loud as they could be,” recalled Craig Denton, Keith’s dad. “Our parents started coming back with the same kind of noise. When we scored, that place went dead silent. For us to come back like that was amazing.”

For sophomores like Chow and Alex Biegler, their postcard moment was the 2001 Pee Wee A state crown. Chow’s score with 31 seconds left in regulation tied it at three and then he scored just 11 seconds into overtime for the 4-3 win over Hyland Hills.

“These kids have been playing in big games their whole lives,” Huskies coach Jade Kersey said. “We have the experience on our team right now being in that situation last year. Everybody wants to put a lot of emphasis on playoff experience. But the reality of it is that these guys since they were Pee Wees on up have played in big games.”

Two more loom this weekend with Kent Denver tonight and, hopefully, the title game on Saturday. And these Mosquitoes, turned Mountaineers, turned Huskies seem intent on making a few more memories.

“This is our biggest game of the year without a doubt,” Bevan said. “We all talked (Wednesday) after practice about how much this means to each one of us and how we’re not coming home with anything less than a state championship. What happened last year is definitely not going to happen this year.”

Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily and can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 614, or via e-mail at cfreud@vaildaily.com.


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