Chills, spills and thrills

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— As fans began packing into Howelsen Ice Arena for the Ski Town USA Hockey Festival Saturday night, two individuals were already comfortably seated in the VIP section eagerly anticipating the upcoming games.

Mike and Wendy Baumann, who arguably had the best seats in the house, were at the ice rink to watch their son, Chris, play for the Steamboat Braves Bantams.

The Bantams, which went on to win both of their games Saturday, will play in the championship game today at 12:15 p.m. against Casper.

The hockey tourney, which is in its fifth year, has raised about $20,000 for the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association, vice president Bill Krueger said.

And it has been a big hit with local fans.

"It's fun to have a tournament at home," Wendy Baumann said. "I enjoy seeing all the Steamboat people who support the teams."

Twelve teams from the region have been competing in the tourney, including teams from Colorado, Texas and North Dakota.

Today, six teams will compete in the finals while the remaining six teams will battle in the consolations.

The Steamboat Midget and Bantam teams will be vying for a championship in their respective divisions, while the Steamboat Peewees will be fighting for third-place.

Jeff Franks, who plays right wing for the Steamboat Midgets, said the hometown fans have been a major influence on the players.

"It's awesome to have all the fans come and support you," Franks said. "It's so cool to have our friends here from Steamboat supporting us."

Phil Bush, who is the captain of the Steamboat Bantam team, said the tourney is a great way to cap off the season.

"It's just a lot of fun to play with people you know watching you," Bush said. "It's a lot better than finishing the season at an away tournament where you don't know anyone."

Even the out-of-town fans say they have enjoyed their time at the tourney.

Bill Kurfman, who traveled from Dallas to watch his son, Billy, play, said he has enjoyed his visit.

"It's a nice town," Kurfman said. "We've had a good time.

"It's good for the kids," he said. "They just want to play hockey. That's what it's all about."

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