And yes, even 8-year-olds can have a lot of hockey experience, considering that some begin as early as age 3 and skate/practice/play several times a week.
“What amazes folks the first time they see a Mite hockey game is that these little kids can really play the game!” says Parkway Drive resident Chad Wertz, who co-chaired (with Martha Avenue resident Dave Klasnick) a large cast in organizing this tourney. Wertz is an assistant coach on his son Cooper’s Hornets Mites Blue team and he also has a son, Brayden, who is a Squirt, the next age group up.
What might surprise you about Mites hockey is that you can watch more than one game at once on the same rink. Per USA Hockey’s American Development Model, the youngest players don’t play on full ice, but rather, cross-ice, with appropriately scaled-down nets. That means as many as three games can be played at one time on a rink divided into thirds with soft black “bumper” barriers.
For the Meltdown, two games will run at a time on Lebo’s main rink, with each team putting out three skaters and a goalie. They’ll play 90-second shifts in games consisting of three 12-minute periods.
The action starts at 8 a.m. Saturday and runs to 7:30 p.m. (with a break from 4 to 5:30 p.m.). On Sunday, play starts at 7 a.m. (this is hockey, after all) and runs until 7:30 p.m. (with a break from 9 to 10:30 a.m.). The championship games are at 4:40 p.m. (Blue division) and 6:10 p.m. (White and Red) Sunday.
Teams are coming from the Allegheny Badgers (Delmont), Pittsburgh Predators (Ice Castle, Castle Shannon), South Hills Hockey Association Panthers (Bethel Park), Southpointe Rink Rats (Cecil/Canonsburg) and — a late addition — Indiana (County, Pa.) Amateur Hockey Association Chiefs. Wertz notes that the tournament is encouraging visiting families to eat at Mt. Lebanon restaurants, some of which are running special offers.
The players will be competing for team cups that the champion team in each division wins; all the players in the championship games get individual trophies, too. Every player will go home with a March Meltdown T-shirt and have a team photo emailed to them.
Hockey families and spectators can bid on prize baskets put together by each Mt. Lebanon team, and the Hornets organization also will auctioning Pittsburgh Penguins souvenirs. Speaking of which, the various divisions and pools of teams have been named for Pens’ play-by-play announcer Mike Lange’s sayings, including “Great balls of fire!” (Red), “Huntin’ Moose on a Harley” (White) and “Smilin’ like a butcher’s dog” (Blue).
What started out because there wasn’t enough ice at a bigger tournament has morphed into a special experience for these Mite-sized players and their families, says Wertz, who emphasizes that it’s all about having fun and celebrating this winter’s hockey season. “We’re going to wrap it up in style!”
Bob Batz Jr. is a hockey dad and assistant coach on the Mt. Lebanon Hornets Mites Red team.