Atkinson, Helm skate with country's elite

Steamboat Springs players take part in USA Hockey 2005 Girls National Championship

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Don't be fooled by her petite frame and welcoming smile. Siara Atkinson is fiercely competitive when it comes to hockey.

What began as a way of copying her older brother has turned into a passion for the Steamboat Springs High School sophomore.

This week, Atkinson was a member of the U-16 Colorado Wolfpack, and she took part in the USA Hockey 2005 Girls National Championship Tournament in Denver.

The tournament featured the country's top 48 teams and best young skaters.

"The girls in this tournament are so good," Atkinson said. "I'm really excited about it."

Steamboat's Carly Helm was a member of the U-19 Colorado Wolfpack, as well.

The Colorado Select, the state's premier girls' teams, served as the host, so the state was allowed to enter two teams in each division (U-12, U-14, U-16 and U-19).

Atkinson and Helm were selected to play on the second team. Both spent the winter traveling to Denver for practice and traveling the country in tournaments.

Atkinson barely stands above 5 feet -- the running joke is she can skate through teammates' legs -- but she certainly stood out during tryouts. Atkinson is a right winger.

"The tournament team was specially made a while ago," Atkinson said. "During tryouts, I didn't find as much competition, but once practice started, everyone started to show their talents."

The Colorado Select team is made up the best girls in the state willing to commit to a rigorous practice and travel schedule. Atkinson said her Wolfpack team is composed of talented skaters, as well. They just don't want the burden of the schedule.

Atkinson, also a soccer player, is forgoing an opportunity to play in the 2005 Girls Chicago Showcase so she can resume the soccer season. She was selected to represent the Rocky Mountain District in the hockey tournament.

"I didn't want to miss any more soccer," she said.

Next season, Atkinson admits, she is going to have to pick between playing hockey and soccer. If she opts to play hockey, she likely will have to leave Steamboat. It is going to be a difficult decision, she said.

"I used to watch my brother's hockey games, and I used to do everything my brother did," Atkinson said. "I played Mites and Squirts for two years with the boys and joined a girls league at that time, too. My dad said no to Pee Wee's because I was too small."

And that's when Atkinson committed to girls hockey full time.

Atkinson still is planning to keep up her regular spring schedule for hockey. She will travel to the Front Range to take part in state evaluations, districts and camps, with the hopes of advancing to the national level.

But this week, she was ready to see what the rest of the country had to offer in her age division. She even joked about getting a few autographs while in Denver.

This year was the first time USA Hockey has held an independent national tournament solely for girls. Girls hockey is the fastest growing segment of USA Hockey, according to the Colorado Hockey Insider.

-- To reach Melinda Mawdsley call 871-4208 or e-mail mmawdsley@steamboatpilot.com

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