Bantam team will battle for state title

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— This Sunday the Steamboat Springs Braves Bantam A youth hockey team will be hoping for big things at the Apex Ice Arena in Jefferson County.

"This is far and away the biggest thing Steamboat has ever put together," team manager Jim Leary said. "The team that wins this weekend will be made up of the best players in Colorado and Wyoming."

The local team earned the right to play in the game by wrapping up the Continental Divide Youth Hockey League's Bantam title Sunday. Steamboat topped the Youth Amateur Hockey Association's Bantam squad in the league's championship game 2-1 Sunday morning.

The victory secured Steamboat's chance to battle for the state title this week against the winner of the Colorado Competitive Youth Hockey League. Leary said the foe is still unknown, but it will be Pikes Peak or Littleton depending on the outcome of that league's playoffs.

This is the first time a local team has played for a state title since 1999, when both the Peewee B and Midget B teams won. Back then, there was just one league in the state.

In 2000, the state was structured into two youth hockey leagues, the Continental Divide, which mainly included the mountains and Wyoming, and Colorado Competitive which is pretty much the Front Range youth hockey leagues, and the Federation Cup was introduced. Basically the two leagues determine their own champion and then those two teams meet in a single-game format for the state title.

The Steamboat team, which was seeded fourth in its own league, won three straight games last weekend in Colorado Springs.

"I think it was a big shocker," Leary said. "None of the other teams were paying much attention to us when we showed up. But I knew this team was special and I knew we had a good chance of winning."

Steamboat upset top-seeded Casper in the first game by a score of 3-1.

John Lalive, Philip Bush and Taylor Leary all netted first-period goals as the Braves exploded to take a 3-0 lead. Dusty Atkinson, Jamie Lokkesmoe and Chris Baumann provided the assists.

Goalkeeper Tim Higbee gave up just one goal as Steamboat raced to the win.

The second game was a lot tighter as Steamboat battled cross-state rival Youth Amateur Hockey Association in the first of two games on the weekend.

"I think our players were kind of disappointed after the championship game," Leary said. "I think Saturday night's game was the one they were all looking for."

Leary said the team was happy after Sunday's championship, but it was kind of anticlimactic after the battle on Saturday.

The Colorado Springs team took the early lead at 1-0 and then held on for most of the game. But with less than 3 minutes remaining, Steamboat's Casey Earp tied the game after getting an assist from teammate Baumann.

In overtime, Lalive came away with the game winning goal. Bush was credited with the assist.

The hometown YAHA team, however, battled back through the consolation bracket of the double-elimination tournament to get another shot at Steamboat. Vail eliminated Casper. Then YAHA topped Vail to advance to the finals.

But the Colorado Springs team's luck ran out against Steamboat in the championship title, which was held at the Air Force Academy Sunday morning. Leary said the YAHA team had played a stronger contest the first time around.

Baumann netted the first Steamboat goal of the game after getting some help from Lokkesmoe. Then with the game tied at 1 goal apiece, Steamboat's Chris Timmerman put the game away with an assist from Matt LeGrice.

Steamboat's goalkeeper Tim Higbee turned in a solid weekend of play, stopping 48 of 51 shots, including several key saves in overtime and close game situations.

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