Steamboat Springs Hockey fans will get a chance to watch more local talent at the Ski Town USA Hockey Festival than they have in the past five years.
With a fewer number of available teams from around the state to fill the three-age division tournament, the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey program is using more local teams for this year's festival.
While the Bantam age group, which fields a team of eighth- and ninth-graders, will play in the traditional four-team tournament, the younger Pee Wee and older Midget teams will be playing other Steamboat teams in exhibition games. The three-day tournament starts Friday and is expected to draw close to 150 players.
Although the tournament had been growing for the past five years, youth hockey director Doug Strang said a number of factors could have caused fewer teams to sign on to the tournament this year. He pointed to an Easter holiday that falls a week after the tournament, teams that ended their season early and players heading to evaluation clinics as reasons why numbers are lower.
This year the Steamboat tournament has three teams who will all play in the Bantam division, compared to nine teams in the tournament last year.
But the lack of out-of-town teams means the community will get to see more locals on the ice. The high school-aged Midget team will go up against players on the adult league and the middle school-aged Pee Wee team will face off with the elementary-aged Squirts, play a co-ed game with the girls youth team and have an intersquad scrimmage.
And the community will get to watch them all play in the renovated Howelsen Ice Arena.
"(The ice arena) is super excited to have the festival. This is kind of a blessing in disguise," Strang said. "To have local hockey teams (play each other), to do that in a new facility, watching people play, everybody is completely stoked."
Adult league member Peter Van De Carr would agree.
Van De Carr said he has been wanting the adult league to play the high school team for years.
"I've been wanting this scenario to happen, pushing for it for several years," Van De Carr said.
"Kids and adults can conflict. But when they play together, mutual respect is gained," he said.
The three-day tournament is the main fund-raiser for Steamboat's youth hockey program. During the festival, the youth hockey program will have a silent auction with a USA Women's Hockey jersey and stick signed by the entire 2002 U.S. Women's Olympic hockey team. The club also has jerseys signed by captain Cammi Granato and assistant captain Karyn Bye.
On Saturday, the arena will have a player and parent public skate from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m with a $5 admission fee.
"We're really hoping the community gets behind this," Strang said. "Their support made this dream of an ice rink happen."