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Hockey addicts hit the ice in weekend tournament

By Doug Chapin
Special to The SUN

There is something new in the air; people in town can’t stop talking about it. It is an exciting, thrilling source of pure joy and emotion.

This event is packed with fast action. It is thrilling to watch and even more fun to play — creating new lifelong friendships and camaraderie along the way. I am thoroughly impressed with sportsmanship like I have never seen before.

It is a religion to some and an addiction for others. Most call it hockey. I personally have been converted. Thanks to Brian Collabolletta and his inaugural Pagosa Pong Hockey Classic this past weekend, there is no looking back.

Collabolletta, along with Jeff and Tonya Quinn, put together what some of Pagosa’s town staff are calling the most well-run (and if you ask me the most successful) first-time event in Pagosa Springs.

Collabolletta expressed in a phone interview that town employees are very excited about how well it went and that he is hearing a buzz after the event all over town. We also joked about how we could not function very well the day after the tournament due to how hard we played. Seven to eight games of intense hockey over two days were just too much fun.

Along with the organizers and other volunteers, I was able to help build part of the pong hockey rink, which included two-by-six boards to keep the puck in play and for board passes.

I played in the tournament, as well. Hockey players from all over Colorado jumped at the chance to volunteer their time to make this event happen.

With team names such as Mullet Hockey Inc, Can’t Skate Backwards, Unicorns and an all-girl team called the Nutcrackers, I knew this was going to be a fun, colorful event. If you were in attendance, you would’ve seen how the Nutcrackers earned their reputation on the ice. Their spirited team cheers and very enthusiastic play made them a crowd favorite.

In the spirit of his love for hockey, Collaboletta’s original plan was to make the tournament free, but insurance was needed and a team fee was put in place. If you didn’t have a team, you could sign up as a free agent. That is what I did. A team of free agents was created called the Sparkys that I was very fortunate to be a member of.

Remaining proceeds were donated to the Friends of Pagosa Skate Pavilion, a group raising money to construct a year-round ice skate and roller skate pavilion in Pagosa Springs. The group has many organizations and individuals interested in making the pavilion happen through donations, including local construction companies and the National Hockey League. NHL all-star Bob Kudelski donated a hockey stick to the pond hockey classic for a raffle prize.

The experience of this joyous event was enough for players and spectators alike to have ear-to-ear smiles the whole weekend.

Players came from all over the state to play in the tournament. My teammate David was from Aspen and had played in the Creede pond hockey tournament the weekend before. David was an amazing teammate; he passed up many open goal opportunities to give me some great opportunities myself.

You see, I just started playing hockey, and I was barely able to even stay up on skates until recently. My Sparkys teammates made me look like an all star. I scored often, going up against some very good hockey players, many of whom have played their whole life. It was all thanks to great awareness, razor-sharp passes, amazing puck control and the selflessness of all of my teammates. Experience is invaluable in hockey and I learned more this past weekend about friendship, sportsmanship and rising up to challenges than I think I ever have or ever will again.

In a conversation with the NHL great, Kudelski related that he is very excited to see a hockey arena in Pagosa. His former town, Cody, Wyo., is a town similar to Pagosa. Kudelski serves as a board member there for the local skate arena. The arena has had great success, including sporting a minor league hockey team, the Yellowstone Quake. The Cody high school hockey team went from not existing to the state championship game within seven years of the arena being built. Kubdelski believes if we can get a bit more help, we will have a temporary rink by next winter. Having this temporary rink will generate a lot more interest towards getting a larger, permanent facility constructed. There is also the possibility of a minor league hockey team for Pagosa down the road. Part of his enthusiasm and belief that this could be a major success for our town comes from the fact that the first-ever hockey game at Cody’s Riley arena had 600-700 in attendance without even having proper seating.

The proposed arena in Pagosa will facilitate hockey, figure skating, roller derby and much more.

Board member Jack Ellis hopes the pavilion happens because he thinks hockey is a great sport with great camaraderie. It is addicting. In Durango, he says, you can barely get ice time; they have 30-40 teams playing in leagues there. Hockey in Pagosa could have similar success.

Hockey is an amazing sport that can teach life lessons and create strong bonds and friendship, but most importantly, give Pagosa Springs something to be proud about. A local skate arena will also attract strong families, businesses and commerce to the area. I implore you to donate to the Friends of Pagosa Skate Pavilion.

Anyone interested in the Pagosa Pong Hockey Classic can contact Brian Collabolletta 903-2394 or e-mail pagosapondhockey@outlook.com.

To donate or contact Friends of Pagosa Skate Pavilion, contact Krystal Fortune at 264-3346.

This story was posted on January 30, 2014.