Steamboat Springs A team from Northern Colorado captured the bantam title at last weekend's Ski Town U.S.A. Hockey Festival.
For the first time in the six-year history of the event, it was the only championship game with any real meaning that was played on Sunday afternoon. That's because the other two divisions failed to draw a full slate of teams for the three-day event.
But organizers are trying to turn the event into a positive experience.
"It really opened the door to some new ideas," organizer Kim Bonner said. "I think some real positive things came out of the weekend."
Bonner said the organizers of the event, which benefits the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association, will change things next year after struggling to get enough teams to fill both the pee wee and midget brackets at this year's event. Both of those brackets had local teams this year, and they spent the weekend scrimmaging other squads in non-competitive games.
Out of three divisions, the bantam bracket was the only one with four teams this year. It was the first time that the tournament has not completely filled every age division.
The local bantam team finished fourth in that division after losing a heartbreaking 5-4 contest to Wasatch in the consolation game.
The two teams were tied at the end of the first period of the game. Steamboat's Tanner Stillwell scored a goal after getting an assist from Jake Bonner in the first period.
Wasatch netted two goals and Steamboat scored three times as the offensive action exploded in the second period.
Steamboat's Tanner Grimes, Nick Crislip and Sam Spillane all scored for the local team.
Wasatch knotted the game with a goal late in the third period, and then won a shootout at the end of the contest to secure third place in the festival.
Northern Colorado beat a team from St. Louis, Mo. 5-1 to win the overall title. All five of Northern Colorado's goals came in the second period.
The other two brackets featured scrimmages with adults or other teams from around the region.
It was a downer for some of the local teams, but Bonner said organizers are already looking toward changing next year's date and format. "I'm almost 100 percent sure that we will move the tournament to November next year," Bonner said.
The reason is that by the time this year's festival was scheduled to take place most of the teams in Colorado had already hung up the skates for the season. Other teams and players were committed to state evaluations and a tryout for a traveling competitive team.
Despite the dip in the number of teams attending, the Festival still raised an estimated $15,000 for youth hockey in Steamboat Springs. That was less than the $25,000 the event raised last year, but because of the success of some other local fundraisers (including the visit by the U.S. Women's hockey team) Bonner said the association is in good shape as the season comes to a close.