Special by Al Steiner:
The project was the brainchild of Dawg Nation Board Member Mike Pijanowski. Now, the words “brainchild” and “Pijanowski” don’t often collide, but this was a good one. He proposed to have his twin sons’ Junior A team, the Yellowstone Quake of Cody Wyoming, come to Denver over the Thanksgiving weekend, and play a regulation game against another junior team at the Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche.
There would be obstacles. Finding an opponent, finding an inexpensive place for them to stay for the weekend, feeding a herd of teenaged hockey players, and securing the ice at Pepsi Center were just a few.
But spearheaded by “Pij”, who incidentally was recovering from recent open heart surgery, little by little they worked everything out. The opponent was no problem- it turned out that another Wyoming junior team, the Gillette Wild, was very excited to come to the big city and play on NHL ice.
The Colorado Avalanche, who this year became a partner with our Dawg Nation charity, agreed to let the teams use the ice on November 26th, right after their game against the Edmonton Oilers. The only stipulation would be that the teams would have to buy at least 200 tickets for the game, at a greatly discounted rate. Between both teams and Dawg Nation, they sold over 250.
The Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation would benefit as well, because the Avalanche generously donated five dollars for every ticket sold back to our organization. So the game would turn into a winning situation for everyone involved. The Dawgs’ Avalanche liaison, Jake Godber, did his usual outstanding job of coordinating the event at Pepsi Center.
Then the families and friends connected with Dawg Nation stepped up, and opened their homes to the players and coaches of both teams, giving them places to stay for free during the weekend. And Friday night, after the Quake had endured an eight hour bus ride, they had a huge Italian meal waiting for them in Arvada, courtesy of Pij, Pij’s adorable mom, and Dawg Nation.
After a good night’s rest, the Quake was generously given free ice at the Edge Ice Arena in Littleton to practice, and got set for the big game that night at Pepsi Center. They drove down to the arena in their team bus, stowed their gear in the locker rooms provided by the Avalanche, and watched a terrific NHL game, won by the home team, 5-2.
Then it was their turn. So many of these kids dream of playing NHL hockey, but had never been anywhere near a professional rink. As both teams came out for warm ups, it was gratifying to watch all their faces light up as they prepared for the contest, constantly looking around at the surroundings. And they had the support of many family members who had traveled 500 miles to watch their kids play on the big boys’ ice.
The game itself was a very good skate. Gillette took a 2-0 lead to the locker room after the first period, despite being outshot 17-7 by the Quake. Yellowstone roared back in the second, scoring four unanswered goals to forge ahead 4-2 heading to the third. But Gillette found their skating legs in the last stanza, dominating play, and came away with a 6-4 victory.
The Quake didn’t enjoy losing the game, but in the end, what really mattered was that over 40 kids got to live a dream, and maybe someday a few of them will be back, playing for keeps in the NHL.
While the Wild went home the next morning, there was still some business left for the Yellowstone Quake. They had agreed to, and were excited to play, a team comprised of the best players from Dawg Nation. A very nice crowd came to the Edge arena, and even paid admission, that went into a fund that would be given directly to the Dakota Ridge High School hockey program. Pij and Dakota Ridge Principal Jim Jelinek did a fantastic job promoting the game to the students and youth players in the area; therefore Dawg Nation was able to present the Eagles with a check for almost $1000.
Friends, the game proved one thing: Even the best adult league players will have problems keeping up with kids that skate at the junior level, and skate every day instead of once a week. Playing a very clean game (one penalty was called), the Quake rolled over the Dawg Nation squad by a 10-3 margin. The bravest man in the building had to be Dawgs goalkeeper Timmy Kmetz, who stood between the pipes the entire contest and faced the kinds of shots he hadn’t seen since he himself was a junior player in Minnesota. And that was many, many moons ago.
The weekend was complete when the Dawg Nation Hockey Foundation was able to award its seventh check of 2011. In early November, an Over 40 league player named Ken Flowers crashed into the boards during a game against the Old Dawgs, breaking his leg in several places. To help defray some of Ken’s medical bills related to the accident, Dawg Nation was very proud to present him with a check for $2500, due largely to the number of tickets sold for the previous night’s Avalanche game. We wish him a speedy recovery, and look forward to seeing him again soon on the ice.
The weekend was a tremendous success, and could never have been accomplished without the help of many people, and especially the tireless work of Mike Pijanowski. Special thanks go to Quakes owner Bob Bole, coaches Joe Cardarelli and Ross Orrock, and the entire Yellowstone team. Dawg Nation wishes the best of luck to all these young men as they continue their dream of someday playing professional hockey.