Finding the motivation to win this week at the 2004 National Midget Hockey Championships in Marquette, Mich., will not be a problem for Steamboat goaltender Tim Higbee.
"I don't want this to be about revenge, but it is," Higbee said.
Higbee left his friends and family in Steamboat Springs two years ago to pursue the upper level of junior hockey playing for the Electricians in Marquette. But Higbee was cut from that team after just one season on the ice. He returned to Colorado and spent last winter as the goalkeeper for the Team Colorado Outlaws, a team based in Denver. The Outlaws defeated Pikes Peak in a 4-1 game to win the Rocky Mountain District Championship Tournament in Dallas earlier this month. The victory earned the Colorado team a berth to nationals and a chance for Higbee to make a statement with his former Marquette team. The Outlaws will open the tournament against the Marquette Electricians on Wednesday.
The Colorado team also is scheduled to face a team from Maryland as well as the top-ranked midget AAA team in the country from Shattuck, Minn., in pool play this week. The top teams will advance to a single-elimination format for the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals this weekend.
"I know the coaches and players on that team, and I know the fans in Marquette," Higbee said. "This is personal for me, and I would like nothing more than to pay them back in the first game."
This winter, Higbee has lived with a host family in Denver while attending Denver East High School and playing for the Team Colorado Outlaws.
Higbee said it was hard to leave his friends and family in Steamboat, but he thinks the move is necessary if he wants to pursue college hockey and professional hockey in the future.
After a difficult year in Michigan, it seems Higbee has found a home with the Outlaws. He said the chance to play in this week's National Championships is one of the main reasons he had to leave Steamboat in the first place.
"There is a moment in sports where everything comes together and you tell yourself, 'This is why I play the game,'" Higbee said. "When we beat Pikes Peak and won the regional title, that hit home for me. At that moment I knew all the hard work, sacrifice and the pain of leaving Steamboat was worth it. That was the moment every athlete works and hopes for."
If Higbee gets his way, he will have a couple more of those moments this week en route to his first national title.
"I want to do whatever is necessary to help my team win this week," Higbee said. "That's my top priority."
But he admits the title would be even sweeter if it came in Marquette.
--To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209
or e-mail email@example.com