Waiting to go on the ice for the first game

Goalie Austin Hathcoat stops a Utah Grizzlies scoring attempt

Can-Am Challenge Hockey Tournament


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Dateline: Las Vegas - From October 11 to 14, for the third time in nine months, I found myself in Las Vegas, this time for another hockey tournament. My grandson Mikie and his Bantam level team swept a tournament here last February. Along with about ten of his teammates, he has moved up to the Midget level, the final category for youth hockey.

Midget teams are either 18 and under kids or 16 and under. The Fresno Junior Monsters are 16-U, but they play against some 18-U teams in tournaments and exhibition games. This event was the CAN AM Challenge.

I had a meeting Thursday morning at 9:00 and wanted to have a good breakfast, so I got up about 7, an hour or more earlier than my usual wake up time.  With the first game Friday at 10, Mikie would miss school that day, but we didn't want him to leave early on Thursday, so I made plans to pick him up when he got home at 3:00.

As has happened too often, getting to Vegas was an adventure on its own. Scattered thunderstorms were forecast for Las Vegas and the nearby mountain and desert areas. We were not worried about snow (which plagued us two years ago), since none was expected below 7,000 feet. However, a common component of thunderstorms is hail, and we had a little of that.

We got on the road a little after 3 p.m. Traffic was not bad, and we even made it through Bakersfield at 5:00 with only a few minutes of slow driving on Highway 99 heading into town.

Going east on state 58 was even smoother, and we stopped for dinner at a Denny's in Tehachapi, getting back on the road just before dark. We zipped along nicely through Mojave, Kramer Junction, and Barstow, where we headed north on I-15. We soon began to see lightning far in the distance, and we had a little rain off and on.

After we passed Baker and went over the high point at Halloran Summit at 4,000 feet, we we're treated to a spectacular lightning display, with many cloud-to-cloud sparks, including at one point two horizontal sparks, one above the other. Other times the flashes lit up the silhouette of mountains in front of the light.

As we approached Valley Wells, the last rest stop in California, Mikie finally fell asleep, and I was about to do the same. We pulled into the rest stop where I planned to snooze a few minutes. A gentle, soothing rain began to fall on the roof of the car, followed quickly by the sound of machine gun fire. Well, not really, but was LOUD and woke up Mikie. I looked out the window and saw these white lumps beside the car, and realized it was hail. I needed to go into the restroom, but waited till the hail turned back to gentle rain. By this time the top of the car and the windshield were partly covered, but it was slushy and soon melted off.

We didn't have any further severe weather till we got into Las Vegas. We took US 95 at the north end of town, and for much of the next four miles, pounding rain and water in the road kept speeds down to 40 or 50 MPH.

Due to the storm my GPS kept losing the satellite connection, but it reconnected in seconds most of the time. We made it to the hotel a little after 11, and got to bed by 11:30, with a 6:30 wake up call in store.

The Courtyard by Marriott had not only given us a good group rate, they set up a buffet breakfast for players and family. The kids had to arrive by 7:00, with parents and siblings eating at 7:30. This gave us a little under an hour before it was time to leave for the Fiesta Rancho Hotel and Casino, one of two rinks being used for this tournament, about four miles away on a very direct route.

Our first opponent was the New Mexico Storm, a team said to be AA level (the Monsters are single A).  The monsters opened the scoring near the end of the first period, then scored twice more in the second. Maybe the boys thought they could coast to an easy win, but for whatever reason they took their foot off the gas pedal, a bad idea against any team. The Storm scored just over a minute into the third period, then again half way through, and finally with less than 90 seconds left in the game, ending the contest in a tie, and giving both teams a point in the standings.

Kids and parents then headed for the buffet, where the hotel graciously gave us a banquet room and allowed us to pay for the entire group with a single credit card, with a flat charge of $8 per person, tax and tip included. The parents then reimbursed the person who provided the card.

With another game in about three hours, the coach admonished the kids to avoid pizza and other heavy foods, but I noticed many players slipping a slice or two on to their plates. Would this come back to haunt them in the later game?

We had time to go back to the hotel for about two hours rest, then it was back to the Fiesta for game two against the Utah Junior Grizzlies. This team was reported to be the weakest of the five in the Midget level, but the earlier tie had taught the Monsters not to take any team for granted. After a scoreless first period, the Grizzlies drew first blood, but Fresno came back five minutes later with two goals 35 seconds apart, both scored by team captain Jacob Haynes. Fresno made it 3-1 ten seconds into the third period, after which the teams traded scoring with two more goals each. Haynes put in the final tally for the hat trick, and the Monsters triumphed 5-3. No pizza hangover for our guys!

Everyone was on their own for eating and other activities for the evening, with the boys given a 9:30 curfew by Coach Bobby Barlow. Mikie and several teammates walked to a nearby McDonald's, then played video games at Best Buy until time to head back to the hotel for the night. So much for Vegas night life when you're 15.

After the big lunch buffet, I had no further interest in eating for the night, so I sat in the lobby with several of the parents and had a beer. Mikie and I got upstairs and into bed by 10 with a wakeup call waiting us at 6:15 in the morning.

Our 9:30 game was at the Las Vegas Ice Center, a little farther away but still an easy trip with very little traffic that early in the morning. Our opponent, the Arizona Hockey Union Purple from Peoria lost their first game 5-1 and won their second one by the same score so we did not know what to expect.

Fresno got the first goal but Arizona quickly came back with two. We tied it early in the second but Arizona answered with two more goals, winning the game 4-2.

This left the Monsters with three points in the standings and a must-win game in the afternoon against the Las Vegas Junior Wranglers, one of the top ranked teams in the tournament. The Wranglers' leading scorer, Coby Downs, put in the first goal of the game just seconds before the first period horn sounded. Fresno tied it just over a minute into the second but Downs responded two minutes later. The remaining nine minutes of the second and the first six of the third saw intense physical play but no more goals.

Then Connor Smythe tied it for Fresno, and Justin Russo put in what would prove to be the winning goal.

Fresno would still need help from other teams to get into the gold medal game, and as usual, other teams had their own agenda. In the end, the Monsters tied for second. The tie-breaker was fewest goals against, and with one more than the New Mexico Storm, Fresno finished in third.

The Jr. Wranglers finished fourth, setting up a re-match in the bronze medal game Sunday morning.

For Saturday lunch it was "get your own," but bring it back to the hotel so the boys could hang out together. We found a Quiznos and enjoyed the sandwich, drink and chips. Saturday night Mikie again went with his crew to McDonald's and Best Buy. I did not want a big dinner, so I decided on a chocolate chip cookie sundae from the hotel diner, very delicious and certainly lower in calories than a hamburger from the Heart Attack Grill, which several families had visited Friday night.

Sunday's game was at 11:40, so everyone was able to get a good rest and have breakfast at a more civilized hour, 8:30 for the kids and 9:00 for parents and siblings.

We got everything packed up, then checked out and left for the rink about 10:20, giving the team plenty of time for pre-game activities. This usually includes a jog around the outside of the building, and most days a low-key game of ball hockey out in the parking lot.

For me it usually means reading and chatting with other parents, but since this game and Friday's were at a casino, I had to see what I could do to contribute to the Nevada economy. On Friday I put in a $5 bill, which soon disappeared. I don't operate on the assumption that if I put in more I will surely win, so that ended my gambling for the day. On Sunday I found a likely looking penny machine and inserted a $20. Playing mostly 25 cents at a time, I didn't even win a few pennies the first few spins. Down to a little over $17 I considered changing machines, but went for another spin. The machine began dinging, and just kept it up for a long time, paying a $26 jackpot. With enough profit to pay for dinner on the way home, I cashed out and went out to the car to work on this report.

After the close and physical game between Fresno and Las Vegas Saturday, we expected the same for the Sunday game, and indeed it was. There were 19 penalties between the two teams, with Vegas taking one more, while Fresno's Andrew Pellegrino accounted for four, which results in ejection from the game, and suspension from the next game. Andrew also provided the first goal of the game, but Las Vegas star player Coby Downs answered just over a minute later. Jacob Haynes and Landon Sciacca also scored in the first to give the Monsters a two-goal lead, but Downs closed to within one with a goal late in the period.

Downs is a big, highly skilled kid, but not very physical, and Fresno parents went wild when he was knocked down by a check from Brennan Achee, the smallest player on the Monsters team.

In the second and third periods, each team put up one more goal per period. The Wranglers' Tyler Anderson, assisted by Downs, raised Vegas fans' hopes by tying the score less than two minutes into the second, but Jacob Haynes put Fresno ahead again late in the period. Fresno added one more goal from Brennan Achee early in the third, and the boys in green and white held that two-goal lead through most of the rest of the game. Las Vegas' Anderson scored once more at 10:45, but the Monsters stayed strong and held off the Wranglers intense attack in the final minute and a half to take the bronze medal game 5-4.

After the usual pile-on celebration, the teams lined up for the traditional handshake, then Fresno's triumphant team stood on the ice as each player was presented a medal. A few quick team photos concluded the hockey weekend, and after players changed, we said our goodbyes to parents, teammates and siblings, and went our separate ways for the long trip home.

The storm had moved on by Saturday morning, and there were no weather issues going home. There were a lot of sections where concrete barriers have been set up seemingly inches from the travel lane due to construction, but since it was Sunday, no workers were active. Most of this was on Highway 99, and traffic slowed down to 70 MPH in these zones.

Mikie and I stopped for lunch at Los Domingos in Barstow, a Mexican restaurant I've visited several times. Anxious to get home, Mikie was hoping for a quick fast food stop, but by way of compromise I asked the waiter to bring a box and the bill immediately, so that when Mikie finished, I could pack up the rest of my food and we could get out quickly.

We made only one more stop, at Murray Farms at the bottom of Tehachapi Grade east of Bakersfield, probably a first for me, since normally I never pass up a rest stop. We got on the road about 1:30, and arrived at Mikie's house around 9, to be greeted by Tim and Teri and two enthusiastic dogs. I visited for a few minutes, but since I still had a dozen miles to go back to my condo in Clovis, I was on my way quickly. When we rolled into his driveway I jokingly said to Mikie, "Be sure to forget something like you usually do." Ever obedient, he left his tool kit and his medal for me to discover when I unloaded the car at home.

Coach Bobby Barlow posted this post-tournament comment on the team's Shutterfly Page:

Sitting in the passenger seat staring out the window somewhere between Baker and Barstow reflecting back on the weekend. I remember driving over the mountains and descending into Las Vegas into an incredible thunder and lightning storm. So what began with the Storm and a 3-3 tie  ended with a thundering check from Brotank [Brennan Achee] that put the Star [Downs] of the Las Vegas Wranglers out and ended the Wranglers' hope of a comeback. 
3-1-1 record - great job boys. Final note: The two teams that made the finals were both the two AA teams in the tournament with Arizona beating New Mexico 2-1. I still think YOU were the best team there. See you Tuesday.

So ended our journey, a total of 909 miles.

This web address shows only the final standings, but there are links on the left to individual games and score sheets. If you get to a page that has all the divisions, look for the Sarajevo/Midget division. All divisions were named for Winter Olympic cities.

--Dick Estel, October 2012


Photos (Click to enlarge; pictures open in new window)
(Photos marked "AP" taken by Amy Perez)

Ice arena at Fiesta Hotel

Hockey Moms Waiting to go on the ice for the first gameWaiting to go on the ice for the first game
Ice arena at Fiesta Hotel

Hockey Moms (they can kick your Soccer Mom's ass any day!)

Waiting to go on the ice for the first game
Attacking the net against New Mexico Goalie Austin Hathcoat stops a Utah Grizzlies scoring attempt Las Vegas Ice Center

Attacking the net against New Mexico

Goalie Austin Hathcoat stops a Utah Grizzlies scoring attempt (AP)

Las Vegas Ice Center
Mikie races to the puck vs. Arizona Celebrating the Saturday win against Las Vegas Monsters salute their fans after the win
Mikie races to the puck vs. Arizona Celebrating the Saturday win against Las Vegas

Monsters salute their fans after the win

Captain Jacob Haynes sweeps the puck away from an opponent's stick Jacob Buck wins the puck battle in the corner Boston Lindlahr about to slip past a defender
Captain Jacob Haynes sweeps the puck away from an opponent's stick (AP) Jacob Buck wins the puck battle in the corner (AP) Boston Lindlahr about to slip past a defender (AP)
Monsters celebrate a second win over Las Vegas The final score of the Bronze Medal Game Mikie receives his medal
Monsters celebrate a second win over Las Vegas (AP) The final score of the Bronze Medal Game (AP) Mikie receives his medal
Medals from the official; hugs from the coach The Fresno Junior Monsters Midget A TeamThe Fresno Junior Monsters Midget A Team The bronze medal
Medals from the official; hugs from the coach (AP) The Fresno Junior Monsters Midget A Team (AP) The bronze medal
Mikie is greeted by a teammate's brother, Pee Wee player Josh Russo Las Vegas sunset, Friday night Nice mountains, too many signs

Mikie is greeted by a teammate's brother, Pee Wee player Josh Russo

Las Vegas sunset, Friday night Nice mountains, too many signs
Warming up with a game of ball hockey Logan Errotabere, Brennan Achee, Andrew Pellegrino, Mike Perez, Mikie Liddle being kids in the hotel lobby

Warming up with a game of ball hockey

Logan Errotabere, Brennan Achee, Andrew Pellegrino, Mike Perez, Mikie Liddle being kids in the hotel lobby (AP)
Related Links
Monsters Shutterfly Page (photos, schedule, news, etc - requires free registration)
Final Standings Monsters Stats Page Monsters Pix on Shutterfly
Heart Attack Grill
(for those with a death wish only)
Courtyard by Marriott

New Mexico Storm (page not active)

Fresno Junior Monsters Monsters NORCAL League page City of Las Vegas
Utah Junior Grizzlies Arizona Hockey Union Purple Las Vegas Junior Wranglers
Dick's 2009 Snowy Vegas Trip Dick's July 2012 Vegas Trip Fiesta Rancho Hotel and Casino
The Fresno Junior Monsters Midget A Team

Jacob Buck wins the puck battle in the corner

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Updated July 21, 2017