Steamboat Springs Daniel Coloccia wants to play hockey as long as he can at the highest level he can, which is why he made the tough decision to leave Steamboat Springs for a club team in Denver last summer.
Coloccia grew up in the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association and has nothing but respect for the coaches and teammates he played for and with during his nine years here.
After a district camp last year in Phoenix, however, Colorado Outlaws coach Jamie O'Leary contacted Coloccia about trying out for his Westminster-based club team. The 16-year-old defenseman made the roster, and on April 1-5, Coloccia and the Outlaws will participate in the Midget Minor AAA National Hockey Tournament in Marlboro, Mass., as one of the top 12 teams in the nation.
"I decided I wanted to play at a higher level," Coloccia said Wednesday afternoon from Denver. "Leaving friends and family was the hardest thing, but hockey-wise, it was an easy decision."
Coloccia grew up playing soccer, baseball and football in addition to hockey, but his aspirations for continuing his hockey career after high school required him to focus on his favorite sport.
The Outlaws are a select team, popular and successful, so the opportunity to be on the best Midget Minor AAA team in Colorado was an appealing one for Coloccia.
"It was real hard for mom," Coloccia's mother Jackie Coloccia said. "Luckily, it was only three hours away, but he really didn't have much down time at all, if any. They do weight training, a dry-land program and they are on the ice. They also travel frequently. Between that and school, he had no time to get bored or homesick. I'm excited all the hard work he did as a younger kid has paid off, and he's going to nationals."
Coloccia estimated the total number of games the Outlaws will play this season is somewhere between 70 and 75.
Coloccia currently attends Legacy High School in Broomfield but plans on enrolling at Steamboat Springs High School for the fourth quarter after he returns from Massachusetts next month.
Next year, he is uncertain where he will end up as he awaits word from teams interested in adding him to their roster at the Midget Major level.
"He is a solid, stay-at-home defenseman," Outlaws assistant coach John Seymour said. "He was the anchor of our man-short defense and played the point on power plays. He's not a big offensive goal scorer, but he makes great decisions with the puck. He'll be a sought after commodity in the next couple of years."
Seymour, like Coloccia, also has ties to the SSYHA, where he served as director and a coach before moving to Denver. Some, Seymour said, may not understand why a child would leave his hometown to live with a pre-screened family and play hockey.
But the decision, Seymour said, is really no different than athletes moving to Steamboat from all over the world to pursue a dream of becoming a high-level skier.
To be the best, an athlete needs to train with and under the best in ideal situations. The Outlaws provided the challenge Coloccia sought.
That doesn't mean it has been easy.
"Everything Daniel learned, he learned in Steamboat," Jackie Coloccia said. "He just wanted to play at a higher level. Steamboat's been supportive, and I think that's why he has been able to become part of the program down there. It's so competitive and up a few levels from what we play here skate-wise but also discipline-wise. You have to be committed."
The time Coloccia has put in this season has been worth it, he said.
"We wouldn't be where we are now," Coloccia said.
The Outlaws advanced to the national championship tournament after winning the nine-state Rocky Mountain Division by sweeping the best two-of-three series against the Colorado Thunderbirds, a team based at the Air Force Academy.
The Outlaws won 6-5 in the first game and 6-0 in the second.
Taylor Leary and Tim Higbee also moved away from Steamboat to play hockey at a higher club level this season. Leary was a member of the Midget Major Colorado Outlaws, while Higbee moved to Marquette, Mich., to play goalie for its Midget Major team. Neither team advanced to the national tournament.
-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org