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Countdown to 2019/2020 Hockey Season

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“Who are we, Telluride!

Who are we Telluride!

Who are we Telluride!

Wreck, Deck, Score!” —Pregame cheer of the Telluride Lizard Head Squirt A Hockey Team

After Henry Deppen finishes the pregame chant, the starting five of the Telluride Lizard Head Squirt A hockey team meander out to center ice to start the game. Each forward acknowledges the player on the other side of the line, the referee points to the visiting team’s goalie who nods his head to suggest he’s ready; the home goalie does the same. The ref bends his knees, holds the puck above the players’ knees and drops it. Game on.

Hockey is the best team sport in the world. I’ve heard people argue for soccer or lacrosse, but you don’t have to learn how to run to play soccer or lacrosse.

Skating is the magic of hockey. You can skate way faster than you can run and the exhilaration of flying around the rink is kind of like the thrill of skiing, except hockey is a team sport and you can’t pass a mogul over to your teammate for the win.

My 10-year-old son Benji is a third generation hockey player. My father and I both played goalie, but when he picked up the sport at the age of 5, I wouldn’t let him near the goal. I wanted him to feel the exhilaration of scoring a goal and didn’t want him to have to deal with the pressure. No one notices when the left winger has a bad game.

Benji started with the Lizard Heads for two years of mite hockey and then played the 2017-18 season in Salt Lake City for the Utah Grizzlies, before returning this year to play his second year of squirt hockey in Telluride.

For some reason, hockey adopted very strange names to categorize their age groups. The groups are mites (5-8), squirts (9-10), peewees (11-12), bantams (12-13) and midgets (14-15). A bantam is a chicken noted for its aggression, and a midget … really?

On Oct. 15, Benji took the ice for his first practice as a Telluride Lizard Head Squirt — big boy hockey. I was on the ice as one of four coaches. It was kind of a dream come true for me. I had thought of this day since the day he was born. My dad coached me when I was a boy from squirts all the way through bantams. Those are the fondest memories I have of spending time with my father growing up.

Sometimes people in Telluride will make comments like, “Hockey? No way I’m letting my kid near the rink, all that travel, no thank you.”

It’s true that this season we probably logged close to 5,000 miles, but those miles will be indelibly linked to the memories of both the players and the parents.

Road trips are about the time spent in the car driving, the hotel, complimentary breakfasts (with eggs of questionable origin), going to the rink, getting ready, pep talks, the game, cheering with the other parents, the trip to the arcade, bowling, group dinners, late night shenanigans, repeat. It simply does not get better than that.

The only thing as good as playing squirt hockey is being the parent of a squirt hockey player. Not only do you bond with your own kids, you form a special kinship with all the other families on the team. There’s something about dropping your kid off at a 6 a.m. Wednesday hockey practice that bonds you to your fellow half-asleep parents. People you didn’t know at the beginning of the season feel like family when the last buzzer of the season sounds.

The last buzzer of this season occurred Sunday in the finals of the Colorado Squirt A Avalanche Cup in Denver. The team had a miraculous group round and went 3-0-1, beating three of the top teams on the Front Range. In the final game of the group round, Leyton Holbrooke tied the game with .05 seconds. These kids might play until they are 70 and never see a tying goal scored with .05 seconds left.

It is very difficult to beat a very good team twice and the Lizard Heads fell in the final to Denver’s best Squirt A Team.

The team’s final record was 23-7-6. Last year’s squirt A team, mostly comprised of the same players, was 0-18.

The season was over. The kids immediately moved on to the next thing. “I’ll see you at lacrosse on Wednesday,” one child said to the other. But it was the parents who wanted to hold on. We could sense something was slipping through our fingers that we could never get back. 

Here is my ode to the Telluride Lizard Head Squirt A hockey team, with a musical lyric that captures their hockey essence.

Noah Landefield: Noah suffered a huge tragedy in his life during the season when his mother died of cancer. You could tell hockey practice was the best part of his day, and he played like it. He was an inspiration to the whole team.

“Never give up, never give up, never give up, oh no,

Love unconditional, she love

Me forever like the great god above.” —See I

Gus Markley: Gus didn’t make the A team last year and arguably should have. Instead of complain, he worked tirelessly and came into this season greatly improved and was an important part of the defensive corp.

“Give it what you can while you still can give it

Give it what you can (can)

Give it what you can ‘cause you gotta live with it

Give it what you can (can)” —The Meters

James “Jimmy” Welch: James is the classic solid defensemen. No flash, but always gets the job done. Not a big talker, but a big-time player.

“Sometimes underneath the load is where I show my best, so go put your work clothes on go and leave your mark …” —Widespread Panic

Baker Blount: Another player who moved up from the B team from last year, Baker left no doubt that he was one of the strongest players on the team. Baker might have played every position on the team and he played them all well, finishing the season as one of the top scorers.  

“If you start me up

If you start me up I’ll never stop

Never stop, never stop, never stop.” —Rolling Stones

Gigger Gavin: Gigger scored the first goal of the 2017-18 season for the Lizard Heads (and they didn’t score many all year). He came back to the bench flashed a smile that screamed out “I’m nine years old and I just scored the first goal of the season!” Hockey imprinted on him at that moment. Gigger might be the best skier in the fourth grade. But he eschews medals for assists. Hockey is his game and he’s never lost that first goal smile.

“I had a dream so big and loud

I jumped so high I touched the clouds

This is gonna be the best day of my life

my life.” —American Authors 

Leyton Holbrook: I haven’t been around that many 10-year-old athletes, but Leyton is without a doubt the most impressive. Not only is he a remarkable athlete, but also he assimilates coaching better than any player I’ve been around. He’s a leader, is humble, has a great attitude and is nice to everyone. If I had an award I’d name it after him. He leads without even trying.

“Where you go, I’ll go

Where you stay, I’ll stay

When you move, I’ll move

I will follow you.” —U2

Fynn Nash: Finn showed up for his first practice when he was eight. He had never skated before. Many of the other kids on the ice had been playing for three years. He immediately began scoring goals even though he could hardly stand. His skating caught up to his scoring ability and he tickled the twine this year more than a mother tickles a newborn.

“There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done

Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung

Nothing you can say, but you can learn how to play the game

It’s easy.” —The Beatles

Ella Fischetti: Ella is the fastest skater on the team. She is a relentless fore checker and in the last half of the season started finding the back of the net.

“The future’s gonna drive around, and we don’t care,

‘Cause wherever we’re going, we’ll soon get there,

Me and the boys, just me and the boys.” —NRBQ

Seven Tudor: At the end of every practice, Seven walked up to me with a huge smile and said, “Thanks Geoff!” and high fived me. She has some of the most positive energy I’ve ever felt radiating out of a 10-year-old, and to boot she skated hard after every puck and never let anyone intimidate her. She’s fearless.

“You’re a shining star, no matter who you are,

Shining bright to see, what you could truly be.”–Earth, Wind & Fire

Whitaker Fusting: Whit is the youngest player on the team but he is the most driven to score. He logged more time on the ice over the course of the season than anyone, bagging 34 hours alone during Christmas break. That work ethic paid off. In one game he scored a hat trick in eight minutes. 

“If we show up, we gonna show out,

Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” —Bruno Mars 

Henry Deppen: Henry is the biggest boy on the team, and the one who leads the “Who are we?” cheer at the beginning of the game. And every time I watch him call it out, I know he is 100 percent all in. He is a smooth player with the most deadly shot and a 10-year-old gentle giant.

“Rip this joint, gonna rip yours too, some brand new steps and some things to prove, gonna roll this joint, gonna get down low, round and round and round we’ll go.” —Rolling Stones

Dylan Saunders: Dylan was the only player to come up from mites last year and make the A team. He absorbed coaching like a sponge and he played hard, crashing the net like a Tasmanian devil.

“Can’t you hear me knockin’ on your window, can’t you hear me knockin’ on your door.” —Rolling Stones

Juno Bubolo: Juno’s eyes are dreamy. At least that’s what my teenage daughters say. He’s also a fantastic goalie. Juno has been alternating between goalie and forward since he was seven, but it was this season that he came out and said, “I identify as a goalie.” And over the course of the season he went from neophyte to seasoned net minder. I coached him so I take great pride in his improvement.

“You can count on me like one two three, I’ll be there, and I know when I need it I can count on you like four three two, you’ll be there, ‘cause that’s what friends are supposed to do.” —Bruno Mars

And there’s Benji: No. 5 in your playbook, number one in my heart. If I could bottle 10, I just might do it but alas peewees and bantams await.

“May you build a ladder to the stars, and climb on every rung, may you stay forever young.” —Bob Dylan

In the middle of the magical run in Denver last weekend, James’ mom Lindsay texted the following in a group text to all the parents: “These are the sweetest days with these kids.”

I could not help but think of the Natalie Merchant song “These Are Days” in which she summed up the 2018-19 Lizard Head Squirt A hockey season when she sang:

“These are days you’ll remember

Never before and never since

I promise

Will the whole world be warm as this

And as you feel it

You’ll know it’s true

That you are blessed and lucky

It’s true that you

Are touched by something

That will grow in you.”

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