February 15, 2014 Updated: February 15, 2014 at 8:25 am
Move over Colorado College and Air Force, for this weekend you will not be the focal point of hockey for the Colorado Springs area. That honor will go youth clubs traveling from as far as Alaska just to see some different competition.
Friday marked the beginning of the 37th annual Colorado Springs Amateur Hockey Association Presidents Day tournament, an event that has become one of the most sought-after hockey tournaments in the country. Kids from the ages of 10 to 18 represent 94 teams that will see action across the Colorado Springs area.
The Colorado Sports and Events Center in Monument along with the Air Force Academy, the Sertich Ice Center, the Honnen Ice Arena and the World Arena will all feature tournament games through the course of the holiday weekend.
"It's an opportunity to play against a lot of teams that you wouldn't normally get to play against," said Jim Buchholz, the rink manager of the Colorado Sports and Events Center. "Teams come from all other the country because it's a chance to enjoy a new location and it's a premiere tournament. We try to make it a premiere tournament by making it a three-referee system the best we can and it's very well organized and very well run."
Hockey has always had its place in the Springs.
It remains the home of the United States national team and of course, the CC Tigers and AFA Falcons. But the Presidents Day Tournament put on by CSAHA draws a different kind of attention on a national level, a fact that does not escape the coaches of the local teams.
"There's a lot of history here in this tournament and here in town," Mark Boxer said. Boxer coaches the Squirt A (10 and under) Tigers team that is based in Colorado Springs. "We want to make everybody feel comfortable. It's nice for kids who come from out of state to see different teams. But this tournament has been around for a long time and I think there's a lot of pride in it."
And while the tournament might hold pride locally, for those teams coming from out of town it can mean so much more.
They recognize the value that Colorado Springs holds, not just from a hockey standpoint but also in terms of shaping their kids' futures.
The players for the Dallas Penguins Squirt A team will miss at least two days of school in order to travel and play in this weekend's tournament. But coach Ken Atkinson sees that as a small price to pay in order to show his kids how bright their future can be.
Prior to the start of each season, Atkinson provides players' parents a list of tournaments for the season. He allows them to vote on which trips they will make during the season. He doesn't hesitate to point out the advantage (after the fact) that coming to Colorado Springs will have for his players.
Atkinson is a big fan of the CC Tigers, not only because of hockey, but because of the educational atmosphere as well. He's impressed that CC fields a Division I hockey program with an enrollment of only 2,000 undergraduate students.
"That's something that the boys who play hockey need to see," he said. "If you want to aspire to be a college hockey player, they need to see it's not just about hockey but it's about college, it's about school.
They won't learn that from me and they won't learn it from their parents, but they'll listen to every college hockey player in the world that tells them that."
After playing their two games, Atkinson's team - and several others - took in the opportunity to watch the college game as they filed into the World Arena to watch the Tigers square off against Western Michigan.
After that, it's back to work as they get back on the ice for a full slate of games through the holiday weekend.
Games will be played through each day Saturday and Sunday with championship rounds concluding on Monday.
All games are free and open to the public.