Summit Youth Hockey Bantam A team skates to best season in program history
When Summit Youth Hockey’s Bantam A team won the program’s home tournament, the Kingdom Kup, at Stephen C. West Ice Arena all the way back in October, head coach Chris Miller knew the team could be on the verge of something great.
After winning that tournament for the first time in 16 years, just how great remained to be seen. The squad answered that question in resounding fashion in the half year since, advancing as far as any Summit Youth Hockey team ever has: to the state championship game at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the same ice the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League call home.
“The team itself is simply selfless,” Miller said. “The way that they work as a team, they understand the importance of a group.”
Back in September, Miller had full-well knowledge that this Bantam A group of 13-to-15-year-old hockey players was one of the best to come up through the program. After all, the core of the group had been together since they were 6-year-old mini-mites.
Miller, who coached them in some capacity for the past five seasons, knew he had seven skilled returning players from the previous season’s Bantam A team. The 2017-18 team advanced to the semifinals of the 2018 Continental Divide Hockey League tournament.
State championship finalists
Western Colorado Hockey League champions
Forwards: Assistant captain Eli Ash, Hank Kasch, Dominik Griessmer, Finn Theriault, Boone Steinberg, Cole Sakata, Graham Begley, Noah Eland,
Defensemen: Captain Blaze Ebbinghaus, Calvin Hanson, Cassius Bradford, Dylan Payne
Goaltender: Kaeden Edstrom
Head Coach: Chris Miller
Assistant coaches: Ray Brueggemeier, Sam Dudick
But that was all before Miller and the program received an atypical request from not only out of the county, but out of the state, as well. A young player named Dominik Griessmer from Great Falls, Montana, reached out to Summit Youth Hockey before the season expressing interest in relocating to Summit County for the winter to play with a Summit Youth Hockey club. Griessmer was looking for a higher level of hockey than what was presented to him in Montana, even if that meant he played up an age-division with older skaters.
Miller, though, convinced the forward to play with his age-appropriate team, the Bantam As. Living here in Summit County with a “billet” — or host — family through the winter, Griessmer and his “grinder” approach, as Miller put it, soon seamlessly blended in with the team-centric spirit of the returning Bantam As when out on the ice.
With the diminutive yet daring Griessmer in the fold, the Bantam As reeled off five wins en route to that October Kingdom Kup championship game victory over Littleton Red. The tournament title set the standard for a stretch where the Bantam As went 15-0-3 in regular season league play.
“The kids were just learning how to play with each other and trust themselves,” Miller said, “trust was kind of the biggest thing. And just from a size standpoint, when a Bantam player can be 5-feet tall or 6-foot-2, Dominik being one of the leaders on the team and fearless, that kind of set the tone.”
From there, the Bantam As roared through a regular season where their high-tempo brand of hockey led them to wins in nearly all of their games. Their only losses in that stretch came at an elite-level tournament in Las Vegas over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, when they played the best teams from both Northern California and Southern California.
Miller said the experience in Vegas reminded the team of what they needed to improve on for the remainder of the season, which featured the Western Colorado Hockey League playoffs and, potentially, the state tournament.
“We knew our work wasn’t over,” Miller said, “even though we were successful in Colorado, it was not a guarantee to win our league. And I think adversity is much more powerful than winning every game, and that’s what really propelled us to make the state final. They learned that in order to win a league you can never be satisfied, you have to always be trying to make yourself better and it kind of gave us an attitude for the rest of the season that we never wanted to lose again.”
The Bantam As wouldn’t lose until that state title game. Along the way, Miller said goaltender Kaeden Edstrom continued to play well, a “rock” for the squad.
“Not a more dedicated player in the county than our goaltender,” Miller said, “the kind of player where if you say to be at the rink an hour early, he’ll be there two hours early.”
Postseason play began in early March with the round-robin WCHL tournament in Aspen. Considering Aspen is historically the program’s archrival, the Bantam As knew how much a tournament victory would mean to the program. By the end of the competition, Summit rebounded from an opening 1-3 loss to Aspen to defeat them 3-0 in the finals. Miller said the team executed a plan to perfection to isolate certain players on the opposition.
“When I took the job as director,” Miller said, “a board member told me, ‘just make sure you beat Aspen.’ So beating Aspen in the finals was kind of this combination of all of this hard work and the whole season coming to a great point of ‘we’ve finally done this.’”
That wouldn’t be all for the team this season, though. Up next for the Bantam As was a state tournament competition that, for the first time in years, returned to a 100 percent merit-based selection process. The victory over Aspen solidified Summit as the top seed in the state tournament. After advancing through early round games in Arvada and Westminster, it all led up to the championship game versus Colorado Springs at the Pepsi Center. Though Summit defeated Colorado Springs earlier in the tournament, Summit lost 1-0 in the finals.
Reflecting back, the loss didn’t come close to soiling the unprecedented success Summit’s Bantam As accomplished this season. It also, in Miller’s mind, doesn’t take away from the bright future the coach thinks this group will have at the next level, as 10 players will move up to the Summit Tigers high school program next year.
“I think this group in the next three years can make a run to the Frozen Four of the high school (state) tournament,” Miller said. “I’ve been coaching in Summit for six years, coaching Bantams for five, director for three, and this is by far the most coachable and talented group we’ve seen so far.”
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