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The name on the front of their jerseys says Nebraska Bugeaters, but for the hockey team based in Omaha participating in the Rushmore Cup this weekend the "Nebraska" part might not be accurate.

The Bugeaters, who compete in the major squirt division of the tournament, have people from all over the country, including North Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and even New Jersey.

It's a melting pot of 8-10 year-olds that have gotten together to play hockey, something they all love to do.

"You make those friendships and relationships by playing on these type of teams, then move on from there and keep that relationship going as well," Bugeater coach Burke Lake said. 

But, how did Lake get players from as far away as New Jersey?

Lake said he took the Bugeaters to a tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y. in March where he found kids playing for a New Jersey team. He sold the players and their families on the second annual Rushmore Cup, and as it being an opportunity to take a vacation to the Black Hills.

"This is fun because I've never seen Mt. Rushmore before, and I saw it yesterday and the day before," Mt. Olive Township, N.J. native and Bugeater forward David Koptyra said. "I like (the tournament) because I get to meet a lot of new kids."

Most of the players meet each other for the first time on the ice. Lake has gathered this team together for one tournament, and knew that most of the families weren't going to be able to make it to Omaha for practice.

Thursday the Bugeaters tried to have a morning skate but some of the families still hadn't arrived yet. Their first game was on Friday.

"We have a bunch from the Iowa City area that play together, we’ve got some kids from Sioux City, the kids from New jersey so within the team, most of them have played together in their own leagues and then they try to mesh with the outside guys and make a big team out of it," Lake said, admitting that getting the players to all jell on the ice is the hardest part of the job.

"It takes a day, two and sometimes all weekend. Its kind of difficult when you don’t have practice time."

Off the ice, however, the bonding starts immediately. For the kids friendship is simple, they are teammates, so therefore they are friends.

"We really like having fun and messing with each other," center Josiah Harvey, who is the only kid on the team from Omaha, said. 

Harvey wasn't on the team last year, but then again all but two players weren't either. The Bugeaters looked a lot different last season, with everyone but Lake and his son Talon coming from the greater Omaha area.

Lake still wanted to go to the Rushmore Cup, so he was able to assemble a team. As long as players were willing to play, he was going to find a way to give them ice time, something developing hockey players badly need.

"We’re lucky where we’re at (in Omaha) because we have ice all year round, some kids don’t," he said. "Its an opportunity for them to get a little extra ice time and a little extra practice and hopefully make their travel squad the following year."

And then there's the Black Hills in June. Many of the families of the kids on the team have used the Rushmore Cup as a summer vacation. Koptyra and his family flew from the Newark airport, while Max Patten and his family drove from Quad Cities, Iowa. One family brought a 11-person van because on a road trip, the more the merrier.

During their time in Rapid City this weekend they've seen Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse and some have hiked in the badlands. Goalie Kyler Rozeboom from Sioux City, Iowa said he was impressed the most by Mt. Rushmore.

"I thought it was pretty neat how it was carved into the land and how big it actually is," he said.

Rozeboom was a last minute addition, because the Bugeaters realized last minute that they would need a goalie. It was his first time in Black Hills, but from travelling to making new friends it wasn't the first time hockey has helped him grow in his young life.

"My favorite part about playing hockey is how far it can take you," he said. "I've been to tournaments in Fargo and now the Black Hills, places I've never seen before. It's so much fun actually going that far."

The tournament continues today with championship games in the minor squirt, major squirt and minor pee-wee divisions. The title game for the major squirt will be at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center at 1 p.m. and will be between the Northern Minnesota Voyagers and the Black Knights.

The minor squirt championship will be at 9:15 a.m. at the Civic Center and will be the Voyagers Gold team against the Northern Plains Nightmare.

The minor pee-wee title will be decided at 11:45 a.m., also at the Civic Center between the South Dakota Beef and the Blue Mound Bison.

Admission is free to the Rushmore Cup, which continues with more divisions June 15-18.

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