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Panthers gear up for second season of action

Girls’ hockey continues to grow in Crested Butte 

There’s no doubt Crested Butte has become a hockey town. Each year the number of hockey players in the north end of the valley grows from the mini-mites to the master’s team.

 

Last year, local hockey enthusiasm expanded even further to include a U-12 girls’ team, dubbed the Crested Butte Panthers, a club team offered through the Crested Butte Parks and Recreation Department. In the past, girls had to play on the boys’ team at all age levels and handled themselves rather well. An issue occurs at the Pee Wee level (ages 11-12) though, when boys’ hockey turns from no-check to checking. “Some girls can definitely handle it,” says Panthers head coach Tony Lambert. “Some can’t.” “That’s the big difference,” adds Panthers assistant coach GJ Santelli. “We have in the past seen some injuries.” Unfortunately, due to a lack of players, a girls’ team option wasn’t available, until recently. “Years ago we only had one or two girls that would sign up,” says Santelli. “Finally we had the dads to coach and the daughters and it all started to happen.” The Panthers started last year with 14 players, ultimately expanding to 25 players, and joined the Mountain States Girls Hockey League (MSGHL). Their expectations in the first year of league play, as far as winning, were guarded but as the season progressed, they soon exceeded their initial hopes. “We got thumped right out of the chute but in the end we missed the playoffs by just two points,” says Santelli. “The first season went better than expected.” “I thought it was awesome,” adds Lambert. “I was totally thrilled with the season we had last year.” The team ended the season in fifth place with a 6-5-1 record, missing the playoffs by just two points. This year, the Panthers have 26 girls signed up with a returning coaching staff of Lambert, Santelli, John Starr, Tim Seifert, Todd Carroll, John Dethloff and Norm Bardeen. “There’s a big variety of talent out there,” says Lambert. “You can never have enough coaches.” The plan is to split the Panthers into two teams, one traveling team and one development team, with a schedule of games for each squad. Both teams will practice together three days a week this winter. Santelli points out that the number of players is unique—not just to mountain towns, but statewide, noting that Denver only has two girls teams at the same age level. He believes that Crested Butte will see girls’ hockey continue to grow and believes a U-14 team will start up next season. The team has brand new uniforms, primarily pink in color, and an increasing wave of commitment and enthusiasm among the players. “We had a significant portion of our team do (hockey) camps over the summer,” says Santelli. “There’s a lot of hungry Panthers out there,” adds Lambert. Several Panthers participated in a camp last month in Grand Junction. The development players will attend a camp in Breckenridge November 10-11, while the traveling team heads to Aspen for a round-robin tournament with some of the top girls’ teams in the state. “Our whole squad will be in two different places skating this weekend,” says Santelli. “We’re going to see how we stack up against the Aspen teams and two competitive teams from Denver.” League play for the Panthers starts in mid-January and both Santelli and Lambert believe the Panthers will continue to make a name for itself in the MSGHL. “The whole team returns this year,” says Santelli. “These girls are pretty sharp.” Lambert sees the team making it to the big show in just its second year of existence. “We’re going to be pretty good this year,” says Lambert. “We want to go to states for sure.” You can follow the Panthers’ progress and find out when and where they are playing all winter long at their website, www.crestedbuttepanthers.com.

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