A Look Inside the Colorado Grit and the Future of the Team

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Head coach Steve Haddon helping Nolan Shaw during practice at the Ice Haus.

Hockey has been a staple sport in Colorado since the Avalanche relocated from Quebec in 1995. The growth of hockey is at an all-time high with the Avalanche winning the teams third Stanley Cup in 2022, Denver University Pioneers men’s team winning an NCAA record 10th national championship and multiple high schools becoming national champions themselves. The newest team in the state just finished its inaugural season and despite not seeing much success, they have stepping stones to work with and have the right man in charge on the bench.

Steve Haddon, a Sarina, Ontario native was announced as the head coach of the Colorado Grit over a year ago in January. The Grit were first announced as an expansion team to the North American Hockey League last year as well and are co-owned by Bob Bowden and David Clarkson.

For those unfamiliar with the NAHL, it is a developmental league consisting of young players from the ages of 16-20 years old. Those men on the team have the opportunity to hone their skills, learn new ways to develop their game and even have the opportunity to earn Division I scholarships to play in the NCAA.

Haddon just finished his 12th season coaching, but before he went into the coaching field he played hockey from 2001 to 2013. He spent a majority of his playing career in Colorado as he played for the Eagles from 2005 to 2013 before the team became the main minor league affiliate of the Avalanche in the AHL.

Haddon accumulated 216 career points while playing for the Eagles. He described his playstyle to a Swiss army knife and would help the team in a multitude of ways.

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“I tried to be a complete player,” said Haddon. “I was a natural center man and was really good with faceoffs. I really tried to pride myself on being a complete player and being available for all situations.” Haddon was decked out in Grit gear in his office, and recalled times that his coaching staff would ask him to step up in certain situations like helping kill off penalties, setting up a teammate to get an important goal as well as being that guy that needed to rough up an opposing team’s player.

Haddon’s first coaching experience came at a time when he was brought back on the Eagles for the remaining 45 games of the 2012-13 season. He was given an opportunity to play the game at a professional level and to coach the game on his off days. Staying in Colorado to coach allowed him the chance to stay close with his wife and kids and be home by dinner time.

One thing for Haddon that he and his coaching staff pride themselves on is finding what works for each player and coaching them up to be ready for any game day situation. Kind of like how he was used in his playing days.

For the Grit, the team plays in Greeley at the newly renovated Ice Haus, with many in Colorado not being fully aware of the small city. Bowden recalls how many people were criticizing the idea of a sports team in northern Colorado and that it wouldn’t be a good fit.

“A lot of people told us we were crazy, ‘It’s not gonna work. It’s not a town that supports teams… they’re not a hockey town,’” Bowden said.

Haddon says that having a hockey team in a town like Greeley has been great for the community. Home games have been packed out and have close to 1,000 fans in the stands. He compares the situation to a “Friday Night Lights” high school football game.

“We’ve had great attendance at every single one of our games and it just shows how much a community can come together and watch you play,” Haddon said.

The Greeley community and northern Colorado as a whole have been able to show the men on the ice that despite having a losing record, sports matter in the city and want them to have the best experience playing in the Haus.

The Grit have been able to return the favor to the community as the organization has been doing great community service work in the area. Members of the team have already been hard at work with the local Boys and Girls Club as well as soup kitchens in town. Members of the Grit will be present at the upcoming annual Greeley Stampede and look to bring more awareness to the team by giving out hats to attendees, which they did last year as well.

Haddon hopes that the organization can reach out to other professional teams in the area like the Northern Colorado Owlz and the Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC to build more connections and support for one another.

In regards to the Grits 2023-24 season, the squad ended with a 12-41-5 record and finished at the bottom of the south division. Despite the setback, Haddon is able to look at the positives and is looking forward to the organization’s second season highlighting a large number of players possibly returning.

“We could have somewhere between 15 to 17 players on paper returning, but with that being said everyone has to comeback and earn their spot just like the tryouts and camp and draft picks,” he explained. “It’s an open book and there are a lot of opportunities here at this level. Everyone’s job is up for grabs and we want to have the best camp leading to year two.”

Between now and the start of the 2024-25 season in September, the Grit front office will have their hands full with scouting junior prospects, signing players to exclusive contracts called tenders, the NAHL draft on June 12th, as well as training camp to narrow down the final roster.

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