Hockey teams will skate into Steamboat

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A few years ago, the idea of turning teams away from the Ski Town USA Hockey Festival was unimaginable.

But in 2003, the tournament filled in record time. For the first time that anyone can remember, organizers had to tell teams there wasn't enough room.

''This is the biggest hockey tournament in Northwest Colorado and the biggest fund-raiser of the year for the (Steamboat Springs) Youth Hockey Association," said spokesperson Nancy Terry. "We had to turn quite a few teams away -- we could have easily doubled the number of teams in this tournament if we had the ice."

Terry said the tournament's recent popularity is a far cry from three years ago when organizers were scrambling just to get enough teams to fill all the age divisions.

Tournament organizers have made several key changes since then, however, that seem to have sparked renewed interest in the festival, which is in its eighth year.

The main difference is that the event, which used to take place in the spring, was moved to December.

Terry said players, parents and fans are more excited about hockey and playing in December than in the spring.

Last year, the event drew 15 teams from across the state for the three-day event. The momentum has carried over to this year's tournament, which will be Dec. 4 through 7, when 16 teams will take to the ice. Terry said she hopes the three-day tournament will generate $25,000 for the association through entry fees, sponsorships, auctions and T-shirt sales.

Terry said the money would be used to help players with scholarships, grants and other aid.

It also might be used to buy equipment, which can be used by a number of teams in Steamboat.

In addition to hockey, Terry said the timing allows visitors to ski, enjoy area restaurants and take advantage of other amenities.

This year's tournament will begin with play in the squirt, pee wee, bantam and midget divisions.

--To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209

or e-mail jrussell@steamboatpilot.com

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