For Gabe Tonnessen, it clicked about halfway though the regular season.
For Steve Martin, early in the regular season.
For Matthew Mandelski, it clicked when the Durango Bantams upset Colorado's No. 1 seed in the state semifinals to
reach the championship game of the Colorado Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) Cup.
No, not really," Mandelski,14, said Monday night when asked if he expected to be a state champion and all-star
goaltender at season's end. All season throughout, we got better and better, but I really didn't imagine we'd go all
the way to state."
For the second consecutive year, a member of the Durango Area Youth Hockey Association (DAYHA) has laid claim to a
Last year, it was an unprecedented title by the 8- to 10-year-old Squirts team, many of which graduated to the
2009-10 Pee Wees.
This year, it was an unprecedented two-team DAYHA run to the Final Four of the CAHA Cup: The 12- to 14-year-old
Bantams were crowned champions, while the 10- to 12-year-old Pee Wees fought back for a courageous runner-up finish
in the state tournament.
We knew we had a chance, but it was going to be a lot of hard work," Bantams head coach Steve Martin said. These
kids worked hard all year, and as the season went on, we knew we had a chance to get there. That was the first step."
Hard work produced a Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League (RMYHL) championship and the second step: a No. 3 seed at the
CAHA Cup on March 19-21 in the Front Range.
On March 19 at the Edge Ice Arena in Littleton, the Bantams held off a furious third-period rally from No. 1 seed
Colorado Springs for a 3-2 semifinal victory. Kyle Truax scored the game's first goal, Cameron Treharne scored the
Bantams' second and third, and Mandelski, protecting a fragile one-goal lead, snuffed Springs' final attacks from
They were a lesser team than we thought we'd be facing," said Mandelski, the son of Keith and Mary Mandelski. But
we underestimated them, then we had to fight 'em off at the end in the final minutes. They wore us down. They had a
big bench, a lot more people. There were a lot of scrambles in front of the net. I had to step up and play my best."
Outmanned by an entire line (17 skaters to 12), the Bantams did just enough to advance, Tonnessen, the team's
14-year-old assistant captain, said.
They moved the puck really well. They were a really strong team," said Tonnessen, the son of Rick and Kathy
Tonnessen. Our team played OK we have a lot of good, strong players we prevailed."
Prevailed, persevered, then pushed on.
On March 21 at the Pepsi Center in Denver, the Bantams defeated No. 2 seed Northern Colorado Junior Eagles 5-4 in
overtime to win the championship. Durango got goals from Truax (two), Treharne and Danny Cummins in regulation.
Overtime was really pretty intense," said Mandelski, a 5-9, 140-pound goalie who honed his skills in net with
private tutoring from local adult hockey goaltender Ian Davis and a one-week, goalie-specific hockey camp in Toronto
two years ago. They kept us in our defensive zone."
After eight minutes of defense in the extra period, Mandelski covered a puck in the crease to force a faceoff. Riley
Quigley won the draw, then Tonnessen followed his big brother's advice: Skate hard down the middle of the ice," Gabe
said of Jake Tonnessen's words of wisdom.
Riley found me right off the faceoff," Gabe Tonnessen said.
Two-on-one. Bang," Mandelski said. That's how we won the game."
Riley Quigley scored the Bantams' state-winning golden goal with 7 minutes, 16 seconds to play in the fourth period.
The whole team played a really good game," Tonnessen said.
All year, we really played good team hockey," said Martin, whose daughter Sara Martin is Tonnessen's counterpart at
assistant captain on the Bantams' championship team. We spread the puck around. We weren't a team of individuals. It
was extremely encouraging as a coach to see them play as a team."
Coached by Steve Martin and Derek Raimo, managed by Kathy Tonnessen and captained by Mason Johnston, Sara Martin and
Gabe Tonnessen, the Bantams are Cummins, Mandelski, Treharne, Truax, Tyler Coombs, Zach Marqua, Liam Millar, Ezekiel
Soignier and Nick Tarpley.
Coombs, Johnston, Mandelski, Tonnessen and Truax represented Durango and the RMYHL at the all-star Sportsmanship Game
last weekend in Grand Junction.
One of our goals we set was to make it to state, but winning state, that's tough to set your sights on," the
first-year Bantams coach said.
Martin said he had a pretty good idea that goal could become a reality as early as November, when the Bantams were
playing in a Front Range-heavy and highly competitive tournament in Vail.
We lost in the semis to the eventual winner but we came away with the idea that we can play at this level," coach
The Pee Wees, coached by Drew Kensinger, played with that confidence all season long; most of this year's group has
been there, done that - winning DAYHA's first state championship last year as Squirts.
They lost, however, 3-2 to Littleton Pee Wee B Black in this year's state championship game.
Kele Steffler scored a pair of third-period goals for the Durango Pee Wees to make the title shot competitive.
The game before probably was one of our best games I've ever seen them play," Kensinger said of his Pee Wees. The
championship game, I think the butterflies kinda got 'em."
Kensinger accredited the Pee Wees' success this season to the team's leadership skills, pointing to captain and coach
Martin's son, Tim Martin, and teammates Rex Stowers, Brad Tarpley and Eric Walker.
Kensinger said he had to pick up his Pee Wees in the locker room after their one-goal championship loss: 'At least
we got here. We made it,'" he told his team. That got their heads up."
The Pee Wees, coached by Kensinger and Gunter Steffler, managed by Julie Carpenter and captained by Martin are Kele
Steffler, Stowers, Tarpley, Walker, Jake Beekmann, Caleb Carpenter, Trystan Hale, Benji Mickel, Derek Pansze, Sophia
Quick, Kyle Robinette, Devin Steffler, Collin Thorburn and Corinne Truax.
The Bantams, in no need of a pep talk, still are trying to come down after their one-goal championship victory: It
hasn't really sunk in yet," Gabe Tonnessen said.
It was worth it," Mandelski said. It was fun. We've been working for this for a long time."
For Tonnessen, all the fun and hard work came into focus midway through the season.
We had played half the season, played all the teams, and hadn't really lost," he said.
We had high hopes at the beginning of the season, but I didn't think we'd be state champions. We have a really
good team. It's pretty crazy. It's taking a little while to sink in, which is good."
Tonnessen has a theory for the Bantams' success, too.
Part of the reason we did so well is this team is pretty good friends," he said. This whole team really gets along
well with each other and has a lot of fun."
And that, for this year's Bantams, was the final step.