It may be hours away from her current home, but in the eyes of Kali Carlson, an annual hockey tournament in Gunnison has provided a way of keeping her father’s memory alive.
“It has allowed me to meet his buddies and really get a sense of who he was and what he was like,” said Kali, who will be graduating from high school this year.
The Brent Carlson Memorial Hockey Tournament — notably, the longest running tournament to date in the Gunnison Valley — also stands as one of the few local sporting events in which the goal is giving back.
The tournament got its start nearly 20 years ago after Brent Carlson lost his life in a freak hunting accident just days after earning an epic win in a hockey championship in Aspen.
Since that time, fellow hockey players in the Gunnison Valley have kept the tradition alive with the memorial tournament in his name, in part to provide financial support for Carlson’s wife, Tricia Fieth, who had a baby on the way and a young daughter at the time of her husband’s passing.
Carlson’s family — who now resides in Howard, Colo. — expressed only gratitude for the continuation of the community event. Over the years, more than $4,000 has been dedicated to a college fund for Carlson’s two daughters, Kali and Claire.
Upon graduation, Kali plans to attend University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, to pursue a degree in one of her favorite subjects, biology, and aspires to be a physician assistant.
Carlson’s daughter Claire, who will be 17 this month, also is appreciative of the tournament’s long history.
“It’s meant a lot just knowing there are people out there still supporting my dad’s passion,” said Claire of her dad’s love of community.
Claire has a knack for creativity and hopes to display her artistic side through creative writing or design.
Claire and Kali never caught the hockey bug. However, they are both three-sport athletes who participate in volleyball, basketball and track — a trend they would like to continue throughout college. Tricia, who has since remarried, also has a 12-year-old daughter, Abby (college plans pending).
Like Carlson, Kali and Claire both sport bright red hair and an infectious laugh.
“He had a contagious laugh that sometimes I hear in my own children,” said Tricia of her late husband.
Anyone who knew Carlson can attest to his love of life. Tournament organizer and friend Jack Gibbons recalled Carlson’s locker-room stories about battle scars earned from motorcycle accidents and shark attacks in Florida.
Gibbons got to know Carlson in what was called the Over Thirty Five League, a group in which older players — including some younger than 35 — got together for a bit of fun.
“I feel like he lived a whole lifetime of adventures in 31 years,” added Tricia. “In his short life, he really has done amazing things.”
It was Carlson’s zest for life that Tricia remembers most, including his passion for archery hunting, fishing, being outdoors and playing hockey with a bunch of fellow “old timers.”
“One thing that I pass along to the kids — Brent always said, ‘You can sleep when you’re dead,’” said Tricia.
Carlson, too, long supported the City of Gunnison building an indoor rink to support the hockey community — a project that would come to fruition after his passing.
“He was also just a really fun guy to play hockey with,” added Gibbons.
Gibbons, with the help of fellow players Jim Stanley, Chris Danos and “father of hockey” Dan Law, sits on the donation committee which has provided funds to charitable causes ever since Carlson’s passing.
“I think it says a lot about Brent and the impact that he had in the community,” said Tricia of the annual tournament.
Proceeds from the tournament have been donated to charitable causes of all kinds, including nonprofit Gunnison Valley Mentors, Hospice and efforts to aid in breast cancer awareness. In 2009, the donation committee dedicated $2,000 to Gunnison’s Dustin McGuinness following a hockey accident.
“Dan (Law) and I joke all the time, we’re not very good hockey players, but if we run the tournament we get to play,” laughed Gibbons.
Each March, a total of eight teams from southwest Colorado gather to play in Carlson’s memory.
Part of the fun of the game stems from just that — the ability to get on the ice even if you’re an “old timer” to pass around the puck.
“Our motivation really is just playing hockey and having fun,” added Gibbons. “If we can give back at the end of it, that’s a bonus.”
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)