DENVER — In 2001, the Littleton Hawks PeeWee AA boys hockey team got the call asking if they could they lead off the Stanley Cup parade in downtown Denver.
The answer for this team of then 12 years old was a definite yes. Who wouldn’t want to be part of Colorado history?
The Avalanche’s Stanley Cup success this year brought some of those boys — now men — back together to reminisce.
The video of them skating in the parade is a bit blurry from age and lesser quality, but the memories of that event are priceless. Richard Bachman remembers that hot, sunny day — June 11, 2001.
“Everyone's sweating out there, but I just think everyone's so excited to be a part of something. Something so special," he said.
Mark Viau remembers the crowds, an estimated 200,000 people.
“Every street we turned on, there was just seas of people and everyone was just going nuts," he recalled.
Why was this PeeWee team chosen? They, too, were champions that same year, winning the first ever national championship for a Colorado youth hockey team. They won the PeeWee National Championships in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on April 4, 2001.
Their successful season earned the attention of the Colorado Avalanche. The NHL team chose the Hawks to be the first ever Junior Avalanche team to represent Colorado in a prestigious tournament in Quebec. That was a highlight for Brady Litherland.
“I think we all remember when we got the call, if you will, on the jerseys. The Avs are going to sponsor your team, and we're going to Quebec, and you're gonna be called the Junior Avalanche. I think everybody about wet themselves," Litherland laughed. "Talk about a dream come true, especially, you know, idolizing the Avs, so new to Colorado.”
As they sit around a table looking at their collections of old pictures, pins they traded with other teams, their jackets and worn hockey gear, they can’t help but think about being little boys with big hockey dreams.
“I must have been five, I was pretty little," said Michael Kalush. "I remember taking those skate lessons at South Suburban Ice Arena.”
Mark Viau says he was more of a late starter.
“I didn't even start till I was about eight or so, and it was when the Avs came," he said.
The arrival of the Colorado Avalanche in 1995 changed their lives and the lives of so many hockey players — boys and girls — helping put Colorado youth hockey on the map.
Out of this team of 18 kids, three were drafted by the NHL. Goaltender Richard Bachman was one of them.
“I spent four years with the Dallas Stars organization, two with Edmonton, five with Vancouver, and then then the body didn't hold up," Bachman said. "So now I do the goalie coaching for all the prospects in the Minnesota Wild organization. So it’s still a job, but I always say it’s the best job in the world. I get to do a kid’s game for a living. I’ve never had to have a real job ever in my life, so I’m really, really fortunate to have had that and have hockey give me so much in my life.”
They all continue to play and coach hockey in some capacity as adults. Even though these former teammates live in different cities and states, their friendships remain. They were tight, spending more time with each other over the years at times than they did with own families.
“I lived with you guys,” Litherland said. “More than school, more than my parents, more than everybody. So I mean, you are brothers, family. I think that’s what hockey represents to me is there’s that bond, that lifelong bond.”
“I’ve played every other sport you can imagine," Kalush said. “I don't have bonds like I do with my hockey buddies. You know, it is a different thing. It’s always been a part of my life. So I just don't really know life without hockey.”
"It's almost ingrained at this point. Yeah, like, same. I played against you in some different leagues and stuff. And that's some of the friends I've made, including you guys, keeping in touch over, you know, 20, 30 years," Viau said. "It just brings people together."
They love watching the Colorado Avalanche, especially seeing their hometown team win the Stanely Cup one more time.
Bachman says “It just brings back a lot of really good memories of when Colorado started becoming actually, like, a hockey hotbed," Bachman said. "And to see it carry forward, and then I’m sure this next generation of young players in 20 years could be doing the same thing, and it’s going to grow the game a ton. So it’s fun to see.”
Speaking of the next generation, we wanted to know if they would want their kids to someday play hockey. It was easy to say yes. Litherland, who is a new father, has already thought about that.
“I’m not gonna lie. I think, you know, my daughter already has the hockey stuff. She already has all of my memorabilia everywhere," Litherland said. "I think it's so much more than hockey. It shows you time management, it shows you dedication. It shows you so many more life lessons than just the game, because the game is ever changing. But I would love for, you know, for my kids to play and follow in the footsteps that we all have, because it literally doesn't get better than that.”
On that point, they all agree.
“ I think we're so lucky to have the relationships we do through this sport. 100 percent,” said Bachman.