Eugene Buchanan: Pucksters over powder
OK, OK, so I missed the biggest powder dump of the year. But the rest of you didn’t get to watch 12-year-old girls play hockey in the state playoffs.
That’s right, last weekend marked the state playoffs for the U-12, U-14 and U-19 girls hockey teams at Denver’s Edge Ice Arena. So while the rest of you were getting face shots, proud parents were watching face-offs and slap shots.
The weekend capped a winter of home games and throw-up-filled road trips, culminating with a berth in the finals, held serendipitously every year on the last weekend of Blues Break.
It’s a rite of passage for players and parents alike, each growing from the experience. It’s where a year’s worth of stick taping, lace tying, helmet buckling, elbow pad re-fastening and still more lace tying and tear drying all comes to a head in four final games.
While the girls learn valuable sportsmanship, teamwork and other life skills, so too do the parents. We’re thrown into new social circles, meeting new people and polishing up tactics to remember their names. We hone anger management skills, keeping cool in face of botched calls. We mnemonically contrive ways to match kids with their jersey numbers, and we become masters of the shared shuttle, packing kids and gargantuan gear bags into every ounce of car space, more for saving sanity than fossil fuels.
The payoff is witnessing moments you’ll remember far longer than any powder day: the huddling up and singing “We will rock you!” before game time; the laying on their bellies in a giant star around the goalie before the starting buzzer; the hugs, high fives and fist-bumps after someone scores, even if the game’s already out of reach; and how they rush to embrace the goalie after the final whistle, even if it wasn’t exactly a shutout.
Throughout it all, we take our place in the stands next to other like-minded parents from places like Vail, Aspen and Crested Butte, who fittingly look like they’re from those towns.
An Aspen mom cuddles a white poodle in her lap, the Gunnison/Crested Butte crowd is more grizzled and facial-haired than the rest and the Vail fans cheer like they’re still at the World Championships.
Collectively, we “oooh!” and “aaaah!” at every shot and save. We will pucks to veer toward the goal and second-guess penalties like we’re Barry Melrose minus the mullet. We raise our eyebrows at the overly enthusiastic — do you really need to stand up and cheer for that ninth goal when you’re up 8-0?
Meanwhile, the kids play on and on, oblivious to the parental drama above. They’re Energizer bunnies, some playing seven games in 40 hours, with any available rest time taken up playing laser tag. It’s a juggling act of feeding, shuttling, dressing and playing that would do any military commander proud.
The logistics continue at the hotel lobby, where a giant pizza, Pad Thai and adult beverage potluck scare all other guests back into their rooms. Other teams are there as well, furthering the camaraderie by leaving you their wine.
Like line changes on the ice, the socializing comes in waves, parents from different age groups arriving with the timing of their games. The overlap supercharges the mingling until you’d swear you’re in Steamboat on C-470.
Meanwhile, once fed, the kids come and go between games of elevator tag, jacuzzi dips, dance contests and forays outside. You wonder how they’re still even standing when the curfew call comes, and they head to bed, only to wake at 6:30 a.m. to do it all again.
When it’s all said and done — after you watch them win their one and only game and dogpile the goalie, after they celebrate in the locker room like skiers at Slopeside after the weekend’s storm and after you give in and buy that “must-have” team photo — you pack up and return home, driving through the storm that saved the ski season like the snap of a goalie glove.
So we missed the season’s biggest snowfall. There will be more, and we got to watch our girls develop as both hockey players and human beings.
“That was fun,” was how my daughter summed up the weekend, her smile already cementing where she’ll be next Blues Break.
And from my own selfish perspective, so was getting back in time for a closing run on the mountain.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Things are normally pretty quiet around the base area of Steamboat Resort this time of year, but a lot has happened since the ski area closed following the 2020-21 season.