Mar. 8, 2018 -- It was Friday night at the Cleveland Heights Community Center and the 4- to 8-year-old Mites hockey team had taken the ice. The players didn't know much about their opponents, but their coaches had said some vague things about how they “might be from Canada” where they “might have different rules about how old you have to be to play.”
Suddenly, the opposing team arrived, banging on the walls
around the rink with their hockey sticks and looking rather . . . intimidating.
So intimidating, in fact, that a few of the little kids started to whimper and
Their coaches quickly realized they might have taken their joke a little too far and reassured their players that this was all in good fun and no one would get hurt. And then the whistle blew and the match-up of the century began, the "Heights versus Mites" hockey game, pitting the varsity high school players against one of the community’s youngest teams.
“It was adorable," said parent Becky West whose seven-year-old son Brendan plays for the Mites. "The high school kids were completely engaged and enthusiastic. And the little kids skated their hearts out. They really rose to the occasion."
After getting over their initial fears ("I thought I was gonna get checked," said Brendan), the Mites went on to win the game 14 to 13. "I think they went easy on us," he said. "Because whenever we got the puck and they came after us, it was easy to get away."
The high schoolers had to employ both their acting skills and their skating skills to make the game feel believable. High school parent Melissa Rink, whose sons play for the team, described leading scorer Owen Lang getting the puck and breaking away down the ice. "He went to wind up and I was holding my breath because it looked so real and like he was about to hit it so hard," said Rink. "But then he lobbed it over the goal so the Mites could steal it away."
The game has occurred on and off over the past 30 years.
Current high school coach Eddie Babcox played as a Mite in the very first
match-up in 1986. Rink and other parents pushed to do it again and, after such
a successful evening, everyone has agreed to make it a regular tradition.
The ice time and the pizza for the after-party were funded
by the Barden-Benner-Carter
Foundation, in honor of three Heights High hockey players who lost their
lives in a car
crash in 2001. The February 9 game was held two days before the 17th anniversary of the crash and was attended by Ann Kramer, Kyle Barden's mother. "She loved being there and being able to help out," said Rink. "She's bringing the joy of hockey to future generations of Heights kids.
District third grader James Detti was one of those kids. "This made me excited to be a Heights High hockey player," he said, after providing some detailed play-by-play of the evening. "Me and Colin got the puck and we were in a two-on-one and I made a shot, but the goalie saved it. It wasn't just a regular save, it was a really good save."
He hopes to play defense for the high school team one day and looks forward to playing against the Mites. "It'll be good because you don’t have to sweat as much," said the practical 8-year-old.
As Mite mother Becky West said, "These kids had the time of their lives."