SHERIDAN — It was a beautiful day for some outdoor hockey, as the Gillette Wild and the Yellowstone Quake made the trip to Sheridan Ice for the second annual Wyoming Winter Classic.
While sunshine and warm temperatures threatened to delay the NHL Winter Classic in Washington, D.C., yesterday, negative and single-digit temperatures rose to 34 degrees by the time the puck dropped in Sheridan, allowing fans to enjoy some fast-paced hockey action.
The Wyoming Winter Classic features an exhibition game between the Wild and the Quake, two teams that compete in the North American 3 Hockey League (NA3HL). The NA3HL is one of nine USA Hockey-sanctioned Tier III Junior leagues, with a mission of providing training and development for student-athletes with plans of playing at the collegiate level.
Sheridan Hockey and the Sheridan Amateur Hockey Association sponsor the Wyoming Winter Classic as a fundraiser for the local youth hockey organization. The event also gives players the unique opportunity to play on an outdoor rink.
With each team sporting rosters filled with players from all over the map, even two players from as far as Norway, many of them had never seen an outdoor rink, let alone played on one.
“I asked every kid on my team,” Quake coach Tom Moroste said. “Only three of them had ever seen an outdoor rink, so none of them had really skated on an outdoor rink. I told them, you guys are going to see a whole different feel.”
After the initial faceoff, it looked as if Moroste’s team had adjusted to the speed of the game right away. The Quake controlled the puck early in the first period and got a good look at an early goal. Gillette goalie Sean Kelley made the save, and that was the closest Yellowstone would come to a lead for the rest of the game.
The Wild put two shots past the goalie in the first period, and added two quick goals to open the second and give Gillette a 4-0 lead.
Yellowstone finally got on the board on a Carter Johnson penalty shot, and cut the lead to two with another goal with four minutes left in the second period.
The momentum didn’t last long for the Quake, as Gillette scored two more goals in 40 seconds to close out the period with a 6-2 lead.
“Some guys didn’t realize how quick the puck goes on hard ice,” Moroste said of his team’s struggles. “You think you got someone, and all of a sudden the guy gets the pass. It’s not like you have time to react; you better get there before the puck.”
The Quake were able to score two more goals in the final period, including a one timer as the final horn sounded, but the Wild held on for the 7-4 victory, their second in as many years as the Wyoming Winter Classic has existed.
It was an exciting evening of hockey in what was most likely the final time the Winter Classic will be played outdoors at Sheridan Ice. Sheridan on Skates is in the process of raising funds to construct an indoor arena. The indoor facility is expected to be complete by the time next year’s Winter Classic rolls around, which is bittersweet to the coaches.
“Is this the last one, is the sad part of it,” Moroste said. “We’re happy you guys are getting an arena, but also, let’s keep the outdoor rink and keep having this thing. This is phenomenal.”
Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, though, both teams were happy to be invited to play in the Wyoming Winter Classic.
“The guys just like to enjoy the challenge of playing and competing,” Wild coach Tom Winkler said. “You throw them in an environment like this where it’s outside the box and outside the norm, it just makes it that much more fun.”
“It’s a great tradition, and I think it’s great for your community,” Moroste, a Minnesota native, added. “People in Minnesota were calling me saying, ‘geeze you guys get to go play in a big outdoor classic?’ Minnesota has that now, but having that in Wyoming is a big thing.”