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Low seeds rise to the top in Duluth's youth hockey playoffs

Members of the Lower Chester "Squirt B" hockey team learned about team work, dedication and stick-to-itiveness this year. And for their diligence, they won the city championship even after losing every single game in the first half of the season....

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Members of the Lower Chester "Squirt B" hockey team learned about team work, dedication and stick-to-itiveness this year. And for their diligence, they won the city championship even after losing every single game in the first half of the season. "To see their progress in one year was incredible," Dale Stanek, recreation specialist for the city parks and rec department, said. "They steadily improved. It shows that a group of kids can really pull together under some really difficult situations and still stick with it. It would have been easy to give up. To stick with that as a team I think says a lot."
The team started the season with 13 players, three of whom had never played organized hockey before. Coach Butch Williams knew it would be a slow start. "We knew that we were going to struggle early in the season," Williams said. "We didn't have a regular goalie, and some of the players had never played the game."
"I can remember watching them during the first game of the season," said Stanek. "Six goals were scored on them in the first period. I thought, 'Oh, this is going to be a long season.'"
The team practiced three times a week and while they kept losing, the games were getting better and the scores more competitive. By the end of the season, the team was ranked 10th in the league of 12 teams. But that didn't worry Coach Williams. The team was gelling just in time for the playoffs. "We all agreed that this was going to be our goal, to do well in the playoffs," Williams said.
Like at the beginning of the season, the 12 teams that make up the "Squirt B" league began the playoffs on equal ground. But it soon became apparent that this time Lower Chester had become a team to be reckoned with. The team moved through the tiers of the playoffs and to the championship game against Lester Park, which Lower Chester won in overtime.
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Stanek and Williams are both proud that their philosophy of letting kids play, no matter what their skill level, paid off. "We went out and we knew that there were kids in the neighborhood who wanted to play hockey who hadn't before, but were interested," Stanek said. "Lots of people look at hockey almost the way they do figure skating or tennis -- if you haven't started at 4 years old you're too old. That wasn't the case 20 or 30 years ago. Kids would start playing anytime, even at the ripe old age of 10."
In fact, Williams believes that an older beginner can advance more quickly. "At that age level they can make tremendous improvement during the course of the year," Williams said. "They're more coordinated and can pick things up a lot faster."
The kids "picked up" a lot more than hockey skills during the year. The team was a diverse group -- diverse in age, ability, race and economics. But together they learned about teamwork and dedication to a common goal. "That was inspiring," Williams said. "This was a team that remained focused even though they were losing. Everyone played a role. There wasn't anyone who wasn't a part of the team."

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