Summit Youth Hockey proud of community effort to host pond tournament
At 6 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, clearing the ice sheets at North Pond Park in Silverthorne seemed like a daunting task after an overnight snow storm blanketed the pond hockey surfaces with several inches of powder, but the local hockey community came together to get things ready as parents, coaches and even some young players descended on the site of the 2021 Colorado Youth Pond Hockey Tournament.
A week after the Pabst Blue Ribbon Colorado Pond Hockey Tournament took place on the same surfaces, more than 80 teams from across the state’s youth mountain hockey leagues came together — with COVID-19 precautions in place — for a tournament nearly three times the size as last year’s inaugural event. Summit Youth Hockey Director of Hockey Chris Miller said it couldn’t have happened without the help of the local hockey lovers.
“I just can’t tell you how proud I am of the membership, of the people stepping up to make the event happen. It was mostly parents who helped out and did a lot of hard work. Everyone rolled up their sleeves and got it done. There were players of various ages doing what they could to clear snow — there were over 30 people shoveling snow to get the ice ready, didn’t miss a beat. We had people spending 12-14 hours at the pond this weekend to make it happen,” Miller said.
Miller said the event will become an annual staple not just for Summit Youth Hockey but for mountain youth hockey clubs across the state after interest grew this year for the event that hosts players 4-19 years old.
“I think people can count on pond hockey for every year from now on,” Miller said.
Thus far this winter the Summit Youth Hockey teams have played games against multiple teams in the same weekend during their 12-game seasons, including over the past few at Stephen C. West Ice Arena in Breckenridge which is hosting more than 100 games over four weeks.
The weekend was a special, one-of-a-kind event, where programs across the state, including Summit Youth Hockey, are taking a jamboree approach.
At North Pond Park, Miller and Summit Youth Hockey Director of Operations J.R. Engelbert said the nature of pond hockey provides a creative, less-structured opportunity for players to develop.
Miller and Engelbert said Summit Youth Hockey broke up their traditional teams to smaller groups of between five to six players to form smaller teams in the 4-on-4 pond hockey format. Those smaller squads also went about the weekend without coaches.
While an event volunteer supervised the youth hockey action, the kids got the chance to experience different aspects of what Miller said has been a major push from USA Hockey’s American Development Model over the past decade. The model is focused on drills and game-time situations that give players a little less structure in practice plans, thus encouraging more personal decision making abilities.
“The spirit of pond hockey is freedom and creativity,” Engelbert said. “By trying to remove coaches and coaching over the weekend, it kind of gives those players the freedom to have fun and not have so much to worry about within the structure of a traditional hockey game.”
After Summit Youth Hockey balanced out talent on their different teams — including having goaltenders trade their goalie mitts for regular gloves to take part in the goalie-less action — a few Summit teams excelled. A U-12 peewee team won their division, a U-10 squirt and U-14 bantam team both made it to the championship game and U-15 and U-19 girls teams also made it to the title game.
In the end, the weekend gave close to 200 local kids the chance to play outdoors. Looking ahead, Engelbert, who is in his first year as Summit High School head hockey coach, said he’d be interested in some high school pond hockey action, though the logistics of such an event would be more challenging to work out.
“Our region and environment and elevation and everything gives a little more security for stuff like this to happen in January and February versus lower elevations and things like that,” Engelbert said. “It’s an environment that sets up well for it.”
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