In the midst of changing sports seasons, there are still plenty of reasons to celebrate local hockey. The Colorado Thunderbirds, a group of elite youth teams, won the U.S. youth hockey championship over the weekend, writes The Denver Post, noting the Thunderbirds’ under-16 team is the first Colorado AAA squad to win a Tier 1 National Championship. And they did it in impressive fashion, with a 5-1 win over the North Jersey Avalanche. The team of young players posted a mind-boggling 67-9-9 record this year (36-1-3 at home) and a 15-game winning streak.

The Thunderbirds aren’t all that much younger than Colorado’s professional hockey team, the Avalanche, which lost its last regular-season game yesterday 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings (game recap via Mile High Hockey) but nevertheless count the season as a success.

The Avs finished eighth in the NHL’s Western Conference and now have a few days off until a tough playoff series against the San Jose Sharks (full schedule via It will be difficult for the Avalanche to move past the first round, but wherever the team finishes will be higher than most people predicted. The Denver Post’s Terry Frei points to the season’s highs, with young players like Matt Duchene and Chris Stewart stepping up big and goalie Craig Anderson proving he undoubtedly deserves a starting NHL goalie gig.

Sports Illustrated thinks Duchene and coach Joe Sacco should be runners up for major season-ending awards for stellar rookie play and coach of the year, respectively. Indeed, in many ways, the Avalanche have already won, no matter how things go when the playoff puck drops.