By Gabrielle Gasser ASSOCIATE EDITOR
BIG SKY– Big Sky’s youth hockey team took first place at a tournament in Helena on March 19 and 20, the first official tournament the team has ever competed in.
Outfitted in light pink jerseys, eight Big Sky players from 12U, 14U and 16U divisions combined with six players from Lewiston to form the tournament’s standout team. In an exciting game that went into overtime, the Big Sky/Lewistown squad claimed the championship title in a victory over Flathead 2-1 after collecting their only tournament loss to Flathead earlier in the tournament.
“I think it was really joyful,” said Head Coach Joseph McFadden. “…it was so cool for these kids to experience that,” he continued. “They really never played games in that magnitude. They’ve never really played indoors before in that magnitude. So, it was just pretty fascinating to watch them experience that.”
Eleven-year-old Steen Mitchell from Big Sky said the win felt good. Mitchell, who plays center, has been with the youth league since he was 4.
“I was in deep shock because it was our first tournament and the team that we played was really good,” he said.
Mitchell’s teammate, 13-year-old Thomas Trulen, has also been playing hockey since he was 4.
“It was really fun and awesome to be there,” Trulen said of the tournament. Winning, he added, felt like a miracle.
The taste of victory has already motivated Trulen to look forward to next season.
“I hope we get to do a lot more tournaments and games and I hope we win,” he said.
In its eighth year running, the Big Sky Skating and Hockey Association Youth Hockey Program drew around 120 kids this year including players between 3 and 16 years old, according to McFadden who has been coaching for seven years. The hockey season runs from mid-November to mid-March. McFadden said the players generally practice twice a week and he tries to organize two or three informal games a season.
Born from a desire to offer kids an evening activity in the wintertime, McFadden says hockey has a lot more to teach kids than just skating and drills. In addition to getting players excited about the sport itself, McFadden said this program teaches them life skills and how to be a good team member.
“You’re not gonna like everybody that you work with,” he said. “You’re not gonna like everybody you go to school with. You’re not gonna like every neighbor that you live next to, but you have to have some sort of common thread. And if you can find that you’re going to have a more enjoyable life. I think in any team sport that’s going to be pretty easy to translate into life if you could learn that and then be a graceful loser. You’re not always winning.”
Mitchell’s mom, Mara, praised the coaches and said she’s watched the BSSHA program grow and evolve since her son joined. She noted the cost-prohibitive nature of a sport like hockey and expressed her gratitude that the program is affordable for families.
“It’s amazing,” she said, “and we’re so appreciative and thankful for having this opportunity in our little town.”
Bella Butler contributed reporting to this story.