Vail Mountain and skiing go hand in hand.
Vail, situated in the Rocky Mountains of central Colorado, offers some of the most picturesque landscapes in the world for snow skiers. In the middle of November, however, big-time women’s college hockey will hit the town in a way that it never has before.
Four NCAA Division I teams, including two ranked among the nation’s top 10, will participate in a two-day tournament Nov. 15-16 at Dobson Ice Arena in Vail. The tournament is being hosted by the Vail Recreation Commission. One of the chief organizers is University of Wisconsin coach Mark Johnson, a member of the “Miracle on Ice” U.S. National Team that won the gold medal at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
In addition to the tournament, Johnson and members of the Badgers team will put on a clinic for youth hockey girl players.
“It’s a big deal,” said Jared Biniecki, manager of Dobson Ice Arena.
“If you look at the big picture, we could have an impact on a lot of young ladies,” Johnson said.
The tournament is yet another link between Vail and the Johnson family. Mark‘s late father, Bob, who coached the Wisconsin men’s team to three national championships, began a hockey camp in Vail more than 30 years ago.
“It‘s just something we talked about a couple of years ago,” Johnson said. “We were able to put the details together and find some teams that would be willing to travel out there and play some games against each other.”
Joining second-ranked Wisconsin in the tournament field are No. 10 Boston University, Northeastern University and St. Cloud State University.
“That’s the exciting part,” Johnson said of the four teams going to Vail. “Certainly, BU, since they started their program several years ago, they’ve been in the [NCAA] Frozen Four consistently the last few years. Northeastern was a top-10 team last year. Certainly we’ve had success over the course of the last 10 or 12 years. St. Cloud is a very strong team in the WCHA. You’ve got four real solid programs coming out there and that’s the nice thing.”
Two games will be played on Friday, followed by another two games Saturday. BU will play St. Cloud State in the tournament opener at 4 p.m. MST Friday, followed by Wisconsin against Northeastern. On Saturday, BU will play Wisconsin, and Northeastern will meet St. Cloud.
The morning after the tournament concludes, Johnson and members of the Wisconsin coaching staff and team will put on a clinic for youth girl hockey players at Dobson Arena. The hour-long clinic will be followed by a pizza party and autograph-signing session. The clinic is open to girls from kindergarten through high school age.
“It’s a nice way to give back on Sunday after playing a couple of games on Friday and Saturday,” Johnson said.
Conducting clinics is not new for Johnson, who was coach of the silver medal-winning U.S. Women’s National Team at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. The Olympic team held several clinics prior to or following their exhibition games leading up to the Winter Games. Johnson says it is another way to grow the sport of ice hockey among girls.
“A lot of smiles on young kids’ faces getting to meet Olympic players,” Johnson said.
The tournament and clinic are expected to draw big crowds to Dobson, which seats close to 700. A standing-room only crowd may mean 1,000 spectators.
“There’s lots of interest locally from the women’s teams and just in general, some of the youth hockey community,” Biniecki said.
A portion of the spectators will be from a girls’ youth hockey tournament being held the same weekend at the nearby Eagles Ice Rink in western Eagle County. Each of the 100 players receives a ticket to the tournament.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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