Last year, the Juneau-Douglas Ice Association Mites hockey team went to Haines Junction and dropped three of four games at the Spirit of 2010 Haines Junction Novice International Tournament.
The Mites returned to Canada's Yukon this season a year older and stronger, and took the title in impressive fashion.
The JDIA Mites, ages 7-9, went a perfect 4-0 in the tournament to capture first place.
"The majority of the kids also went last year," Mites coach Jeff Morehouse said. "They got another year behind them and they incredibly improved their skills."
In the seven-team tournament, the Mites outscored opponents 35-17.
They opened the tournament Saturday with a 11-3 whitewashing of the Community Team, a group made up of players from smaller towns in the Yukon.
The Mites followed later that afternoon with a tight 9-8 victory over Haines Junction. Juneau jumped out to a 7-1 lead before Haines Junction came back to knot the score at 8-8.
Kyle Schramm's goal with 31 seconds left gave the JDIA Mites a 9-8 win and the Group B title.
On Sunday morning, the JDIA Mites defeated Whitehorse Pizza Hut 6-3.
"That third game against Pizza Hut was really our best-played game and our hardest competition," Morehouse said.
In the championship game, the Mites routed Haines Junction 9-3.
"We played a little differently," Morehouse said of his team this year as opposed to last year. "We played really strong defense. We put our best skaters on defense and said, 'Take the puck up when you get an opportunity.' We got our forwards backchecking and forechecking. People told us that we had really good skaters, so we told our forwards to chase them."
Morehouse brought 15 players to Haines Junction and dressed two goalies for each game.
Each contest the Mites goalie was whoever wanted to put on the equipment for that game.
"The other thing that raised eyebrows was that we suited two goalies and played two goalies," Morehouse said. "We actually suited six different goalies in the tournament. They changed almost every game. There were a lot of kids that wanted to play."
Morehouse said there are about 30 players participating in the JDIA's Mite program, designed for kids born in 1997 and 1998. They practice for an hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have games on Saturday.
Rather than playing on structured teams, however, the players play more informal games on smaller ice surfaces.
On Saturdays, the rink is divided into thirds and three different 3-on-3 games take place at once. There's no icing or offsides and the players are free to work on their skating and stick-handling skills.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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