|(above) The Junior Pioneers who train at the Ritchie Center on campus won the Tier II National Championships last month outscoring opponents 30-12|
Note: Youth Excellence in Sports [YES AWARD] honors those 17 or younger who have excelled in any athletic endeavor unaffiliated with the Colorado High School Activities Association.From: Denver Post
by Jon Yunt
In the NHL, players show team unity during the playoffs by growing a "playoff beard."
That option isn't always available to 12-13 year-olds, but the next best thing might be a hair-dyeing party. That was the show of team unity that brought an already tight group of University of Denver Junior Pioneers together before their trip to Herndon, Va., and the USA Hockey Tier IIAAA U12 national championships.
"Our kids can't grow beards, so some of the kids got together and decided to dye their hair," coach John Kopperud said. "What was really cool about it was that they had a parade in Virginia, prior to the start of the tournament, and our boys came out arm in arm with that shockingly white hair."
Excluding a 2-1 victory over the Boulder Bison in their third game, the Pioneers cruised through the tournament and won the national title with a 6-2 victory over the Anaheim (Calif.) Wildcats on April 1, earning selection as The Denver Post Youth Excellence in Sports award winner for April.
Kopperud had taken his team to tournaments in Detroit and Canada before nationals. The Pioneers lost in the semifinals in those two tournaments.
"There were some nerves," said Luke Ciolli, who had five goals and two assists in the tournament, including two goals in the title game. "We were the favorites."
The Pioneers finished 73-4 and led 6-0 in the title game.
"From Day One, they wanted to win that national tournament," said Kopperud, whose son, Matthew, also scored twice in the championship game. "That's a pretty lofty goal."
Rich Smith, director of Tier I and Tier II hockey in Colorado, said the Pioneers were special from the start.
"These kids went out and they took it to this country, playing some really tough teams, including some Tier I teams," Smith said.
Clearly, it was a talented group of players from up and down the Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Greeley.
Coach: John Kopperud Players: F Jake Adkins F Luke Ciolli F Brian King F Matthew Kopperud F Jacob Marti F Luke McFarlane F Brice Novosel F JP Perez F Noah Watkiss D Colby Bukes D Murphy Gielow D Blaze Hubbard D Dustyn Loescher D Nikolai Lyssogor G Hunter Bancroft G Colin Lebere