WOODLAND PARK — It was a party in the woods on Wednesday night in Woodland Park. And in the middle of it was a hockey game.
Wednesday marked the official home debut of the Woodland Park hockey team. Sure, they've played games where they have been classified as the home team. But they finally got to play at their designated home stadium, which just happens to be an outdoor facility.
And any outdoor facility in Woodland Park is, literally, in the middle of the woods. The Panthers fell to Dakota Ridge 11-1, but coach Chad Mason hopes that an annual outdoor came can serve as a building for a program in its infancy.
"The ability to play outdoor hockey — pond hockey — it's second to none," he said. "All of who played, all the coaches who played, we grew up on ponds. It's a great opportunity to build our program."
The atmosphere alone will make a great selling point in future years. Not just to get kids to come out and play, but for the community to come out and watch and support the team.
It's not uncommon to see fans dressed in jackets and beanies at a hockey game, but to see them bundled together under a light fixture that is more suited for a late-season football certainly provides a one-of-a-kind experience, not just for Woodland Park, but for anyone competing in that atmosphere.
"I think it's great for high school hockey," Dakota Ridge coach Jeff Towle said. "They said this has been the first time playing outdoor here for them. I don't know if there's been another one in the state, but I think it's great. It gives the boys something to look forward to and gives them something adventurous to do in high school hockey."
Even in a strange environment and unusual circumstances, the Eagles were able to block out any potential distractions and play sound hockey. They scored the first six goals, which allowed them to soak up the environment a little bit.
"It's something different that you get to do," forward Dale Richards said. "The main thing we were worried about was trying to stay warm because we knew it was going to be cold."
In a town like Woodland Park, cold is not an issue on a January night. The town sits over 8,000 feet above sea level, causing the temperatures to normally take a bigger hit when the sun goes down.
In future years, Mason hopes that the area around the rink can fill with students, teachers and fans and become the highlight of the Panthers' regular season schedule.
"That is the hope, absolutely," Mason said. "This one was right after the holiday so I think people are kind of regrouping. We're a 3A school competing with the big boys and we're learning a lot. We're building for the future."
He wants to be able to point to this game as a pivotal moment in Woodland Park hockey history. He pointed out that with Colton Hudson's second-period goal — with an assist from Lou Levy — was a historical moment for the team.
The players involved in Wednesday's game will eventually get to look back fondly on it. They weren't happy with the result of the game, but they were able to appreciate the unique atmosphere that they hope will eventually grow into one of the best high school sports traditions in the state.
"We want to become a winning team of course, but (future teams) will have fun playing out here," team captain Colton Ivory said. "Woodland Park has always been good at keeping its head up and playing through the hard times."