Rivals share bench | SteamboatToday.com

Rivals share bench

Kremmling, Oak Creek combine hockey teams

— Oak Creek and Kremmling athletes typically are considered rivals.

But when it came to playing PeeWee and Bantam hockey, both towns found themselves in a dilemma.

A lack of players means Kremmling and Oak Creek have played with thin rosters in past years. Greg Miyauchi, who coached the Kremmling team last year, said the team often played with only nine players – and some players would play the entire game. If a player needed a rest, he’d switch from forward to defense.

Greg Gingerich, who coached Oak Creek last year, faced the same problem.

Citing safety issues, player exhaustion and not being able to compete at the highest level, the two coaches approached one another with a decision to make: Play with a thin roster, or do the unthinkable.

They chose the latter, and teamed up the chief rivals.

“We just got to thinking, ‘Why don’t we join forces?'” said Miyauchi, a Grand Lake resident. “Your eight players and my eight players and we’d have a great team.”

So that’s what they did. Eight players from Oak Creek joined up with players from Kremmling and Grand Lake to form a team.

Now, this year’s hockey team has 18 players.

The union hasn’t come without problems, though.

Because the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League requires the teams to be entered under one name, the coaches and players had to agree that the PeeWee’s would be called Kremmling and the Bantams would be called Oak Creek.

Then came perhaps the biggest obstacle of all.

They had enough players to be competitive. They had enough experienced coaches to teach the game.

But what about practice?

Instead of making the Oak Creek players commute to Kremmling or vice versa (the Grand Lake players already have to commute to Kremmling because there isn’t a league in Grand Lake), the coaches decided to practice at their respective rinks and then meet up for the games.

Come game time, the idea was to keep Oak Creek players and Kremmling and Grand Lake players on the same lines.

Miyauchi said it works to a point, but as the season and team chemistry have progressed, he’s been able to mix and match lines to get the best results.

The result has been a 7-1-2 record and third place in the league.

“The best part, I guess, is just learning a lot from the Kremmling coach and being competitive,” Gingerich said. “Now we show up at a game and look good.”

With the season-ending tournament at the beginning of March, and the PeeWee Oak Creek/Kremmling/Grand Lake team slated to qualify for it, Gingerich and Miyauchi said the combining of teams was the best choice they could have made.

“I wished we would have done it earlier,” Miyauchi said. “It was an easy deal. We’re going through some growing pains now and again : but it really is amazing that three communities can come together like this.”

– To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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