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Jeff Kolpack, Published February 21 2013

Annual Squirt youth hockey tournament opens today with 128 teams

FARGO - The Squirt youth hockey juggernaut known as Edina, Minn., finally tasted something this year that it hadn’t since 2010. A loss.

The defeat, however, came with a big, bold asterisk.

It took another Edina team to do it. Last summer, Edina’s hockey association voted to have two equal Squirt A teams instead of the one it’s had in previous years.

The Edina White defeated the Edina Green 3-1, but it is the Green team that will represent the three-time defending champions this weekend in the annual Fargo Youth Hockey Association Squirt International Tournament.

The two-division, 128-team field will play at rinks in Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo and Detroit Lakes, Minn. The event began with the Squirt Olympics on Thursday night, with games beginning today.

Once again, it is a who’s who of top-flight youth hockey groups from across the country that occasionally houses a who’s who in hockey. This year’s celebrity connection: the assistant coach for the Dallas Stars Elite 02 Squirt team is Joe Nieuwendyk, a 20-year NHL player who’s currently general manager for the NHL’s Dallas Stars.

He’s not here helping coach his son Jackson this weekend because the NHL Stars have home games.

“With the (NHL) lockout, he got to be on the ice with us all the time until January,” said head coach Trevor Hanas. “I asked him to come on and help out as much as he could. Joe has been awesome. It’s been great for the kids and me.”

The youth hockey Dallas Stars Elite is a comprehensive organization with full-time coaches and training. The midget team boasts 25 players since 2006 who are playing or have played some level of college, junior or minor league hockey.

It costs his Squirt players $4,500 to sign up, Hanas said. The team has been to Chicago and Detroit for competition, but Fargo is what Hanas calls “the finale.”

“Those teams always say they come up here to play real hockey,” said Al Hintz, communications director for the tournament. “They always say they don’t have that level of play where they’re at.”

Count the Carolina Junior Hurricanes as one of those teams. The team flew from Raleigh, N.C., to Minneapolis on Thursday morning and then drove four 15-passenger rental vans to Fargo. The Hurricanes have already been to Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla.

“First of all, you have to have all the parents on board and the organization on board,” said Carolina head coach Dean Melanson. “There was no hesitancy. It’s one step at a time. Once it comes together and everybody wants to do it, it becomes a reality.”

Reality is not cheap. Melanson estimates the season costs between $6,000 and $7,000 per player. A career minor leaguer who played nine games in the NHL, Melanson is used to traveling all over the place. His Squirt kids are not.

“We have one player who was on the team last year, and he’s one of the most excited kids around,” Melanson said. “He’s experienced it and can’t wait to do it again. He’s telling other kids how it’s going to be and that’s another reason why (Raleigh youth hockey) is so committed to this tournament.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack at (701) 241-5546

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia