Mite team thinks big |

Mite team thinks big

Players plan for Pepsi Center game

Dave Shively

— Eight-year-old Andrew Mitchell imagines that playing hockey at the Pepsi Center in Denver would be “cool – but bigger.”

Andrew and his Steamboat Springs Mite Challengers youth hockey team were scheduled to play a scrimmage during an intermission at the Colorado Avalanche’s game Thursday against the Calgary Flames, but the blizzard derailed those plans.

“I’m not really sad,” Andrew said Friday. “I knew they had a big snowstorm and knew it would be dangerous to go down there.”

Andrew’s father, Paul Mitchell, the Challengers’ coach, said a local Mite team has made the trip to an Avalanche game every year in December or early January. Because some of this year’s Challengers made the trip last year, the group was going to combine players from Steamboat’s introductory Mite team, the Explorers. The 16 children were to divide themselves into two squads for a three- to four-minute game during the first intermission and then have the goalkeepers and a few players return to the ice for a shoot-out during the second intermission.

“We would never punish our kids for not working hard,” Paul Mitchell said. “But it’s really a reward for the kids to get to play at the Pepsi Center as Mites (ages 8 and younger) – it’s the highlight of the kids’ years.”

“I went to an Avs game once,” Challengers goalie Jackson Draper said. “I was wondering what it was like to skate on the ice there.”

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The Steamboat Mite team plans to return to the state’s biggest hockey stage based on game availability. Their tickets still are valid for whenever the Calgary game is rescheduled, but the NHL has yet to announce a make-up date. Thursday’s cancellation was only the Avalanche’s second regular season postponement in the team’s 11-year tenure in Denver.

Paul Mitchell is most pleased with the teamwork that the group in the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association’s youngest age category has developed. The Challengers are undefeated, having beaten Mite teams from Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Eagle at a Dec. 9 tournament in Glenwood. The Challengers will play another eight to nine games to complete their season after the holiday break.

“We’ve been out-passing teams,” Paul Mitchell said. “It’s nice from a coaching perspective, because when they start winning games, they’ll start recognizing that five of us can produce better results than one.”