A great weekend in Denver, except for the bad weather at the tail end that affected flights home. No matter. We walked away from the tournament with two gold medals (Pee Wees and Midgets) and a silver (Bantams).
Saturday was a blur. After finally settling into rooms around midnight on Friday, our first group of kids were in the vans at 7:30am with a first game at 8:30am. Denver time. Fortunately, the same kids who probably can't be bothered to wake before 11am on most weekends were rarin' to go when they got to the rink. All three of our teams went to business quickly, making swift work of the opponents. The rest of the day went similarly, with just two losses on the day; one each for the Bantams and Midgets. Several of the kids then went on to play in the All-Star game before they could get a meal and tuck in for the night.
Sunday started even earlier. With the first playoff game scheduled for 7:30am, the Pee Wees were in the vans at 6:30am. Ouch. As with the prior day, each of the Junior Stealth teams dispatched their semi-final competitors to set up championship possibilities. At one point in the morning, the author was standing near a group of parents marveling at the talent on the Bantam team. A know-it-all dad said the Junior Stealth prowess was due to the players being Canadian and growing up playing box lacrosse. Little did he know that most were Washingtonians who had only been introduced to the game in the past few years. No matter. Better to let them fear the "Canadians" than correct them.
The Pee Wees were again in a position to set the tone for championship play. They faced the CaliLAX team coached by former Stealth defenseman Shaydon Santos. The well-coached CaliLAX team had not performed well in Saturdays meeting with the Junior Stealth, but we knew they would be better prepared for a championship game. It was a battle. Goals were tougher to come by as the team defenses and goalies looked great on both sides. In the end, it came down to a shootout. With veteran Junior Stealth goalie Nolan Smith in net we had reason to be confident and he didn't let us down. He shook off every attempt as though he were Tyler Richards' younger brother. Now, someone from the Junior Stealth had to put the ball in the net on the other side. It was Joe Connelly who did it with style. After his finish he ran up the boards behind the net, getting big air to celebrate.
Cheering the Pee Wees were the Bantams, anxiously waiting their turn on the turf. We faced the hometown Denver Elite team, which had narrowly won on Saturday in a brutal match-up. On Sunday, however, it looked like they would run away with the title easily after two periods. The Junior Stealth found themselves uncharacteristically down 0-6 with just 15 minutes to go. Stealth defenseman and Junior Stealth Coach Curtis Hodgson stepped in to give a pep talk at the break. He was positive and the young athletes responded with five straight goals putting the Junior Stealth within one. With less than a minute to go, the coaches had no choice but to pull the goalie and attempt a six-on-five. It wasn't to be. A missed shot, the loose ball by Denver Elite and an empty net sealed the deal. The Bantam team would take silver, but proved they had heart and talent in that last fifteen minutes.
Finally, the Midget team stepped on the turf looking at the older group of Denver Elite players. As with the Bantams, the only team that had stopped the Junior Stealth on Saturday were the hometown favorites. The goalies on each side looked huge, filling the real estate in the four foot wide goals. Offensive tactics required players to get the goalies moving in order to find any light. Each team did find the net though, and this nail biter also ended tied with just two goals apiece. Justin McLellan stepped into goal for the Junior Stealth and was a brick wall against every shot coming his way in the shootout. To get the win, Briggan Weaver snuck it in five hole and the second gold of the day went to the Junior Stealth.
A final note. The coaches - Lewis Ratcliff, Curtis Hodgson, and Mitch McMichael - all commented on how much they enjoyed coaching this group of kids. One of the greatest compliments a coach can make about a player is that they are "coachable." The author heard that comment several times this weekend about the entire group of Junior Stealth athletes. Kudos to all the kids for that compliment and thanks to the parents for supporting and sacrificing for the next generation.