The Winona Area Youth Hockey Association held its annual Fire on Ice Hockey Jamboree at the Bud King Ice Arena on Sunday, featuring over 400 eight-and-under skaters from all over the region coming in to show off the skills they’ve learned so far in their youth. Among the ranks of kids crashing into each other and shooting at the goal, smiles and laughter could be seen and heard between the plays.

Winona’s own Mites and Mini Mites faced off against other Minnesota and Wisconsin teams, giving them a chance to see what the competitive scene holds for them when they move up to the Squirt teams as they get older. The jamboree is also a huge community event for the city and the players, as many of the sponsors were from the Winona area.

The jamboree is usually the biggest event of the year for the Mite teams, according to organizers. “We had a jamboree, which is basically a hockey tournament where we don’t keep score,” Mites Coach Dylan Blumentritt. “We invite other hockey teams from all over Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s a big hockey day for the kids.”

“They were [playing] really hard, but then also we tried our hardest,” Mites player Jase Posey said about his matches. “It was really fun.” He continued, explaining why he enjoys playing hockey, “It’s really fun, and my friends are really into it, and it’s really, really cool.”

“I’m having fun and passing the puck and all that stuff,” Mites goalie Jon Pettit said about what's going through his mind when he plays hockey. He continued, “I’ve been playing for a long time, almost three years, so my first time I was like, ‘I’m going to quit.’ Now, I’m going for it. I want to be out there to have fun.”

Each child had the chance to play three games throughout the evening. “We try and classify the kids by beginner, intermediate, and advanced to make sure the competition is as close as possible,” Mites Coach J.J. Pettit said. “We try and treat competition as a development zone for the kids, both socially and as hockey players.”

“This is really not about hockey. This is about working together towards a common goal and being there for one another and having fun,” Blumentritt said. “So how do we prepare the kids? We do a lot of scrimmaging in our practices. We do a lot of skills work that involves games, just to kind of keep games fun. That’s mainly our goal here: The best way to get better is to make sure our kids are having fun. If they’re having fun, they’re going to want to improve, and they’re going to want to play as part of a team.”

The jamboree also served as a fundraiser for the Minnesota Hockey Fights Cancer, featuring raffles and fundraising with the help of many parents, including Susan Koo and Lindsey Posey, with months’ worth of planning before the event came together. Organizers thanked parents for their hard work, making the event fun not only for the kids but also for the audience.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled J.J. and Jon Pettit's last name. It's Pettit, not Petitt.