Greeley hockey fans now have two home teams to cheer for. This summer the Junior Eagles hockey team rebranded themselves as the Northern Colorado Eagles and moved to the Ice Haus in Greeley.
With them they brought Christmas in summer as the Ice Haus received some long-overdue upgrades and fixes.
The lobby was renovated to offer a café rather than a makeshift concession stand, the lights were upgraded and raised in the arena, a new PA system was added and the Eagles have their own locker room.
The birthday party room, and locker rooms one and two, were all converted into a home locker room for the Eagles. This leaves locker rooms three and four still available to visiting teams and the UNC Bears get to keep their private locker room as well.
Eagles coach Steve Haddon said the move to Greeley was influenced by the modern feel of the Greeley Ice Haus and to differentiate themselves from the Colorado Eagles in the American Hockey League who play in Loveland.
“We saw how the Bears had developed such a following and we wanted to do the same with our fan base,” Haddon said.
Haddon made it clear he does not want to compete with the Bears, but rather partner with them to help each other.
Together the two teams offer the world of junior league hockey, ages 16-20, in the Western State Hockey League (WSHL) and also the collegiate Division II ranks of the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA).
While the two teams play hockey, Coach Haddon explained how the two leagues are quite different since junior league adheres to “all of the current rules produced by the NHL, while college hockey is more so a hybrid sport.”
In junior league players are not sanctioned for fighting other than a five minute penalty, just like the NHL, but in college hockey fighting is sanctioned heavily with suspensions possible for any fight.
Junior league tries to “mimic what the players will see in the pro league,” Haddon said.
While fans love to see fights and hard hits, the UNC team does not encourage nor enjoy fights on the ice necessarily since they know one game suspensions are the penalty for first time infractions and increase dramatically from there.
Another difference between the two teams is that the junior league enjoys more practice times and funding from their own front office and operations, while UNC has only had four practices and whatever they can raise for funding due to their club sport status.
Despite the lack of resources, the UNC Bears hockey team won the 2018 Big Mountain Hockey Conference title, placed No. 1 in regionals (No. 3 in West division), competed in the national playoffs, and placed Cameron Taggart on the second team of the ACHA all-stars roster.
“The team is excited for the season and looking forward to getting back to nationals,” team manager Erin Prueter said.
While it is too early to know what the team motto will be, it is clear the Bears are focused and eager to get back to nationals and prove themselves.
Prueter made it clear that while the team did not win their group at nationals, referred to by Liberty Flames analysts and Prueter as the “Death Bracket” due to the extremely high caliber of teams grouped together, the Bears felt it was a good learning experience to bring with them into this season.
The first two games of both teams preseason were against the other, which seemed like a fitting welcome.
The first game showed how the Eagles have had more practices and time together in the offseason. UNC fell behind early and stayed behind as the “kids” raced their way to a 5-2 victory and gave the Bears some unwanted bumps and bruises.
It may be policy that junior league players are allowed to fight, but surely they knew coming into the game the Bears could not respond without being taken out by their coach.
The unnecessary level of physicality dwarfed the actual talent of the Eagles offense with distractingly aggressive behaviors by Eagles players who desperately wanted a roster spot and were willing to fight for one.
This may actually make the Eagles very successful in junior league, but for an exhibition game it seemed glaringly out of place.
A more positive constant through both games for the Eagles was their goalie. In game one there were multiple attempts from the UNC offense to score, but only two goals came through.
The Eagles goalie showed great poise and patience that will help the Eagles chances of success greatly if kept up.
UNC did drop game one, but only having four practices together may have been a root cause of the slow start for the Bears.
Game two was much improved for the Bears with a 5-4 win. Unfortunately, Scott Robinson, the 6’7” committed player from Nottingham, England, suffered a leg injury that could keep him out several weeks.
Despite that setback a win is a win, no matter how ugly it was to accomplish. The Bears look to improve their defense and polish their offense throughout practice this week to prepare for the Cheyenne Stampede (Junior team).
Leading the Bears once again will be Colin Chmelka (No. 17) as team captain. As the assistant captains the Bears selected Cameron Taggart (No. 22) and Jay Franceschini (No. 24). Other notable players to watch this season are Truman Gonzales (No. 23), Brian Brink (No. 5), Ashton Opperman (No. 1), Michael Viera (No. 11), Brad Pershing (No. 19), and Cade Boreing (No. 22).