They have played hundreds of ice hockey games, collected trophies and won out-of-state tournaments. But no victory was as big as this year—the University of Denver Jr. Pioneers hockey team qualified to play in the 55th Quebec International Peewee Hockey Tournament Feb. 12 to 23.
“It’s really big to qualify for this,” says 12-year-old Cy Welles, defenseman and Stapleton resident. Winning the Quebec qualifier is the best memory of his ice hockey career thus far.
The tournament is known as one of the biggest international peewee tournaments.
Peewee refers to one of the many tiers of age groups in ice hockey—mite, squirt, peewee, bantam and midget. Peewees are comprised of 11- and 12-year-olds.
The tournament attracts peewees from around the world. Last year, the tournament represented 14 countries, including Russia, Finland, Switzerland and Australia, to name a few.
Several players at the Quebec International have gone on to play in the National Hockey League (NHL). Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky played in the 1974 tournament.
For the past 11 years, the Colorado Avalanche has given one area hockey team the chance to compete in the Quebec tournament. The organization pays for all expenses and players represent the Avalanche in burgundy and blue. A local family will provide room and board for the players. And before leaving for Quebec, the team gets to skate during an Avalanche game and practice with Avalanche players.
Arvada, Boulder, Colorado Rampage, Foothills, Hyland Hills, Littleton and Northern Colorado hockey teams also competed for the opportunity.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for them that they’ll never forget, regardless of how they’ll do or what happens in the tournament,” says Assistant Coach Ward Welles, who played hockey for 34 years and traveled to a tournament in Russia as a peewee.
Coach Welles is very proud of the team. Unlike hockey-rich states such as Michigan and Minnesota, Colorado has fewer leagues, but the team has been able to compete nationally, he says.
“In each of their age groups they have typically been at or near the top in Colorado.”
“Hockey lets me escape from reality and all of the outside world,” Cy Welles says. The seventh-grader at DSST: Stapleton Middle School plans to play hockey at DSST: Stapleton High School, Machebeuf or East.
Several players on the team started hockey at age 6 at Big Bear Ice Arena in Lowry and have continued playing with the same group throughout the years.
Welles calls the locker room “a bunch of chaos but a lot of fun.” He typically “lays loose” for 40 minutes and then gets serious right before the game.
In fact, every player interviewed says he is goofy until 10 minutes before the game.
A few new players joined this year. “They fit into the team now. We’ve gotten a lot better not just on the ice but off the ice,” says 12-year-old Adam Bublitz, goalie and seventh-grader at Stanley British Primary. In his experience, players work better together in the game if they’re friends.
“I also like the coaches and why is because they’re really intense when it comes to game time, but when it’s off the ice they’re really funny and nice.”
For many of the players, the NHL is the ultimate goal. Hockey is one of the few sports that demands players to decide on major leagues at a very young age. According to the NHL draft site, players go into the junior leagues at 16 or 17 and are eligible to get drafted by 18.
Bublitz says he is working toward the NHL and is fully prepared to lose his teeth. “I’m already missing a lot of teeth so it won’t be that different. Eight are missing—five were pulled and three came out naturally.”
“It’s everyone’s dream right now to make it in the NHL so of course I do hope for that,” says 12-year-old Paul Elliot, right wing and Park Hill resident.
Elliot is a seventh-grader at Smiley Middle School and plans to go to East High School.
Besides hockey, Elliot is looking forward to many things about the trip. He hopes to get to know his host family and Quebec City. He anticipates it will be a lot of fun, especially because he says all his best friends are on the team.
“We’ll play our hearts out and see what happens.”