It wasn't too long ago that a young skater named Ryan Dingle was hoping to skate into the spotlight as a member of the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association.
These days, the 20-year-old, who calls Steamboat Springs home, is lighting the lamp as a member of the defending national champion University of Denver men's hockey team.
"It's really cool," Dingle said of playing in Denver. "There is just so much excitement around this team right now. It's nice to be a part of it."
The Pioneers, which opened the season with back-to-back losses to Minnesota and Boston College, have rebounded by winning the team's past three games. The squad is ranked 13th in the national polls.
Dingle, a freshman, has scored two goals and has two assists in the first five games. He netted his first collegiate goal in the Pioneers' 6-2 loss to Boston College on Oct. 15.
Dingle said that thought the players are bigger, stronger and faster in college, it doesn't mean freshman players are not expected to contribute in the Pioneers' system.
"If you are on the team, then you need to contribute," Dingle said. "It doesn't matter if you are a freshman or you are a senior."
So far this season, coach George Gwozdecky hasn't been shy when it comes to using freshmen in the rotation.
Six freshmen, including Dingle, have seen playing time. Dingle and Geoff Paukovich of Englewood have recorded goals, and Peter Mannino of Michigan won his first game between the pipes last weekend against St. Cloud State.
For Dingle, the chance to play with the Pioneers is the latest step in his promising hockey career.
Dingle moved to Steamboat with his family in 1997. His parents, Jim and Karen, are teachers.
Dingle made his way through the Steamboat Youth Hockey Association before leaving for Vail in 1999 to play with Battle Mountain -- which offered an established high school hockey program.
He ended up with Valley High School in Des Moines, Iowa, his senior year and eventually joined the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League.
He spent a season in Des Moines before being traded to the Tri-City Storm in 2003-04. That season he recorded 48 points on 17 goals and 31 assists during 49 games. He missed part of the year with an injury.
Now, he is hoping to use his talent on the ice to help DU return to the Frozen Four.
"Well I hope that we can win another championship," Dingle said. " I think winning a championship has been the goal of every team I've ever played on."
With the lockout in the National Hockey League, and the interest sparked by last year's amazing title run, much of the hockey world in Colorado is focused on Magness Arena and the Pioneers.
Last weekend, the team swept two games against St. Cloud State in front of sold out crowds of more than 6,000 fans. As long as the Pioneers keep winning, the seats should remain full, which is just fine with Dingle and his teammates.
"It's so much fun to play in front of crowds like that," Dingle said. "It's so much fun to play for a school like DU."
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