Vail Sportsmanship Tournament starts Thursday. |

Vail Sportsmanship Tournament starts Thursday.

The weather has turned just in time.

If feels like fall, and that means it hockey season in the Vail Valley again.

Yes, that’s right – prepare the Zamboni and welcome to the 24th annual Vail Sportsmanship Hockey Tournament, hosted by the Vail Junior Hockey Association.

That Zamboni will be whirling around Dobson Arena for the next three weekends as 45 hockey teams, ranging from Squirts (8 to 10 year olds) to Midgets (high-schoolers), take to the ice for what serves as the official opening to the local hockey season.

“We’re obviously very excited to host the tournament,” Vail Junior Hockey Association Executive Director Jade Kersey said. “It’s the culmination of a lot of teamwork by so many volunteers to accomplish this goal. It’s the first chance for our players to showcase their talents and show where the association is at this time of year. Hopefully, we’ll have a successful tournament.”

The Vail U-19 girls team will have the honor of dropping the first puck of this hockey smorgasbord, when it opens the tournament Thursday at 7 p.m., against the Summit Lightning.

The U-19’s highlight Week 1 of the tournament. In pool play, the ladies take on Summit, followed by the Colorado Selects on Saturday at 8:10 a.m., followed by Aspen at 3:50 p.m., later in the day. The top two teams from the U-19 pool play in the title game on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

The Vail Bantam A’s and Squirt B’s also take to the ice this weekend.

Round 2 of the tournament comes Nov. 14-16, when the Vail Midget AA’s and A’s lace them up. Both teams lost in the finals of last year’s tournament, so the Mountaineers will be looking to retake home-ice honors that weekend.

The Midget tournaments will also be an opportunity for local fans to get a bit of a preview of the upcoming high school season, when the Mountaineers trade their red, white and blue for the Battle Mountain black and gold, as the Huskies seek an elusive state championship, starting in December.

Weekend No. 3 – Nov. 21-23 – features the Pee Wee A’s, the Pee Wee B’s and the Bantam B’s.

Aside from providing VJHA teams a kick start for the 2003-04 season, the Sportsmanship Tournament has two other purposes. As befits its name, the tournament promotes sportsmanship. In addition to the trophies awarded to the championship teams of the tournament, there are also trophies awarded to the teams which accumulate the fewest penalty minutes.

“This is a well-known early season tournament and we try to focus on sportsmanship,” tournament director Beth Chow said. “It’s our hope that all the teams who come here continue their seasons in the spirit of sportsmanship, and conduct themselves with good behavior on and off the ice.”

The three-week hockey festival also serves as the VJHA’s main fund-raiser for the year. By hosting the tournament, the organization raises money through entry fees, silent auctions, and retail sales. The hope, according to Chow, is to raise enough money to lower Vail player fees to make hockey more accessible to more young people in the valley.

Each weekend, there’ll be a silent auction featuring Colorado Avalanche tickets, Golden Bear necklaces, NHL items, dinners, movie tickets and gift certificates from local businesses. At the retail stand, you’ll find hockey Christmas cards, hockey goodies, VJHA and Battle Mountain shirts, hats and sweatshirts.

“The other thing we’re trying to do is give back to the Vail community,” Chow said. “We’re bringing in 45 teams during the shoulder season, who will be staying in hotels, eating at local restaurants and frequenting local businesses. It’s a way of thanking the town of Vail, which has graciously donated three weekends of ice for the tournament.”

Chris Freud is the sports editor for the Vail Daily. Contact him at (970) 949-0555, ext. 614 or by e-mail at

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