Ski Town USA Fest kicks off

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On a normal Friday at 10:30 a.m., Steamboat Springs freshman Alex Palaniuk would be in English class, and Steamboat Springs eighth-grader Cody Fritz would be in shop.

Instead, the Bantam A teammates were at Howelsen Ice Arena scoring goals in the opening day of the Ski Town USA Hockey Festival.

Unfortunately for the team of 13- and 14-year-old players, the two goals weren't enough. A Northern Colorado Youth Hockey team from Fort Collins won, 4-2, behind a hat trick from Brock Isabell.

"In the first period, we weren't chasing the puck well," Steamboat co-coach Pete Daley said. "We played better in the third, but they were already two goals ahead."

Steamboat struck first off a goal from Fritz at the 13 minute, 54 second mark of the first period. Grant Ehrick was credited with the assist.

"The puck hit off the boards, and I was skating to it," Fritz said. "We had a 2-on-1 ... I was surprised we scored that early."

Fort Collins scored four unanswered goals -- three of them in the first and one in the second period -- to establish its lead.

Players at the Bantam level are allowed to check, but there were few penalties called in Friday morning's game. The Grizzles took advantage of their power play opportunities, scoring their third and fourth goals with the skater advantage.

Isabell had both power-play goals. Jordan Lockner and Paul Todd had the assists.

Fort Collins' first score came off a perfectly placed shot from Isabell 8:10 into the game. Eric Gembarowski passed to Isabell on the wing, and he fired high past Steamboat goalie Sean Kuusinen. The Grizzlies' second goal came off the stick of Seth Foster less than two minutes later when he found the loose puck in front of the net and got it past Kuusinen, who lost his stick in the pile-up.

Both teams had scoring opportunities in front of the net on loose puck pile-ups, but Fort Collins did a better job converting.

Down 4-1 entering the third period, Steamboat's Palaniuk snuck the puck past Fort Collins goalie Joseph Perkara less than 1 minute into the period. Sam Yokubonis and Peter Daley were given the assists.

"I saw Sam come across and I thought he was going to pass, but he got tied up," Palaniuk said. "The puck came out, and I got it."

Steamboat had several more chances to score and pulled its goalie with 1:25 left but couldn't find the back of the net. Steamboat held Fort Collins scoreless in the third in what was its best period of hockey in the game.

Other than South Routt's Peter Daley, Steamboat's Bantam A team is made up of players from Steamboat Springs. Several are in high school, and the rest are in middle school, but they are experienced hockey players, judging by the quality of play displayed Friday.

Despite the ages of the players on both teams, the Bantam A teams displayed an entertaining brand of hockey. Daley said there is more of that coming this weekend.

"They are a good team," Daley said about the Steamboat boys. "All these teams are good."

Steamboat had 19 shots on goal with Perkara turning away 17 of them. The Steamboat combination of Kuusinen and Matt Dawes stopped 19 of Fort Collins' 23 shots on goal.

The Ski Town USA Hockey Festival is the primary fund-raiser for the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association. This weekend, large gift baskets are available to win in a raffle. A silent auction with a large assortment of items, including autographed hockey sweaters, is open, as well.

The tournament continues today and Sunday at Howelsen Ice Arena in the Pee Wee, Bantam and Midget Minor divisions. Teams from Fort Collins, Arvada, Vail, Boulder, Littleton, Hyland Hills and Arapahoe are in attendance.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208

or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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