When Ryan Dingle and Tim Higbee have something to say, hockey players turn to listen. They are experienced, talented and arguably two of the greatest youth players in Steamboat Springs history.
On Wednesday, the pair led a group of Pee Wee and Bantam players through several drills during a three-day hockey clinic at Howelsen Ice Arena, volunteering their time while on leave for the holidays.
"I didn't know who they were," 8-year-old Nathan DePuy said. "I just heard that they were really good coaches."
"I knew who they were," his older brother Evan DePuy, 12, said.
Dingle and Higbee don't consider themselves famous in Steamboat, even though they are two of the most recognizable names in the local hockey community because of their accomplishments.
Dingle, 20, is a freshman right wing at Denver University, the defending NCAA champion. Higbee, 18, was a member of the Southeast Blades in Pine Falls, Manitoba. Higbee was traded just before he came home for Christmas and now is a member of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League, the oldest junior hockey league in the world.
Higbee's record in goal with the Canadian Juniors is 8-1-1.
"We feel like we aren't celebrities but teachers," Higbee said. "We made it."
The decision to leave "God's country" several years ago was difficult for both, they said. Each had to bid farewell to family and friends to play hockey. The sport has taken them throughout the country and into Canada.
"To fulfill lifelong dreams, you have to make sacrifices," Dingle said. "I have absolutely no regrets."
The three-day clinic that wrapped up Wednesday focused on the fundamentals of skating, passing and team play.
"We worked on inside and outside blades, and they helped us do some scrimmaging and shooting drills," Nathan DePuy said. "I had a lot of fun."
Evan DePuy is a goalie, and he worked on his fundamentals, as well.
"They helped me improve on sliding post to post," he said.
Fifty children participated in this year's clinic, the first held by Higbee and brothers James and Ryan Dingle. A number of players were put on a waiting list, prompting James Dingle to say that changes will be made to include more youth players next winter.
Tyson Voyek and Cooper Lee also helped out at the clinic.