Vail Yeti prepare to kick off season
Friday and Saturday is opening weekend at Dobson Arena
Vail is going to be hopping on Friday and Saturday.
If Birds of Prey and Dierks Bentley weren’t enough, the Vail Yeti, the local Senior A hockey squad, opens up its 26-game season against the Jackson Hole Moose on Friday. Coming off the pandemic shutdowns of last year, the team is itching to go.
“After missing all of last season, everyone is eager to get started and looking forward to playing in front of our passionate fan base,” the team said recently in a news release.
Founded in 2013, the Yeti are two-time champions of the Mountain West Hockey League (2013 and 2016). They transitioned to the more competitive Black Diamond Hockey League in 2018.
“The MWHL was centered in the Southwest with teams we didn’t have much in common with, and the travel didn’t make much sense,” said Owner/General Manager Chris Huntington. “The BDHL fits us perfectly and the future for the league looks bright. We much prefer playing mountain teams that are natural rivals and perennial powerhouses like the Sun Valley Suns and Jackson Hole Moose.”
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With expansion planned and an eventual return to a leaguewide championship tournament, Huntington believes the BDHL will continue to be the best senior A league in the country.
Senior A hockey leagues consist of players who have already played junior, senior or college, and, in some cases, pro. In the United States, there are three leagues: the Mountain West, Black Diamond and Great Lakes.
After the cancellation of last season due to COVID-19, Huntington said there has been a “reshuffling of the deck.” Park City’s team is gone. The Texas Titans have relocated to Whitefish, Montana, and will begin play next season, and the Black Diamond League’s playoff tournament won’t resume until the 2022-23 season as the league considers several expansion locations.
Even without an end of year postseason carrot for 2022, Huntington said his squad’s vision remains intact.
“As always, our goal is to be the best semipro team in the Rockies and to make our great fan base and town proud,” he stated in an email last week.
The Yeti experience is made possible through a collective effort, which Huntington is proud of.
“We have some great sponsors which really helps us to put a great product on the ice,” Huntington said, acknowledging the contributions from the Town of Vail, Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery, Gorsuch Sport Performance, The Altitude Bar and Grill, Two Arrows Coffee Bar, Dave and Matt Vans, Fjallraven and Vail Brewing Co.
New this year is the Alpine Bank Promotional Schedule, which includes theme nights and fundraising efforts.
“Alpine is offering a match to our intermission fundraising efforts for some really great causes such as First Responders of Eagle County, the Humane Society, Vail Valley Charitable Fund and VMHC,” Huntington noted.
The opening night on Friday will feature DJ Krusher Jones and include the Yeti After Game Party, sponsored by Altitude Bar and Grill. Saturday will see a return of the Teddy Bear Toss. Fans get to toss a stuffed animal on the ice after the first Yeti goal, which will be donated to the Vail Salvation Army.
The theme nights are great, but the real story is on the ice. The Yeti return their top two players in Bill Foster and Justin Elmore.
“Foster is a gritty two way player who gives everything and leads by example,” Huntington said about his two-way player-coach (and captain). Elmore is the team’s all-time leading scorer.
“He has a knack for scoring high-light reel goals,” Huntington said.
Veterans Brent Sands and Dom Panetta, who played NCAA Division I at Ferris State, are expected to see time at both forward and defense. Dalton Speelman, another Division I product from the University of New Hampshire, and Minnesotan Preston Blanek will be counted on to provide additional scoring punch.
Gone is Vail native Kirk Golden, who is now the head coach of the Butte Cobras, as well as smooth skating defensemen Brandon Cottrell. However, the Yeti have brought in some key newcomers to replace the key losses. Forwards Justin White, a former NCAA champion at Notre Dame, and 21-year-old Gavyn Entzminger, who played in the Canadian KIJHL, join the Yeti this season. Jason Gilmartin, who is coming from the powerful but currently dormant Texas Titans, will bolster the defensive corps. University of Colorado product Jake Zionts will provide quality goaltending depth alongside Spencer Gold. Former professional Andy Canzanello, who played for Huntington’s squad for three seasons after a stellar Colorado College career and five years in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga in Germany, might also join the team for a few games this season, according to Huntington.
The Yeti have a formidable schedule, supplemented with many of the top senior A teams from across the country. “This year we host FDNY, St. Louis and TopShelf Chicago, among others. These teams bring DI and DIII college and pro talent, which makes for exciting and challenging games worth circling on the schedule. It’s great to be back,” he said.
Single game and season tickets are available on VailYetiHockey.com.