Inside a chaotic locker room minutes before last Friday's college hockey playoff game, Ryan Dingle wanted to escape the pressure of the moment.
The University of Denver freshman and Steamboat Springs resident tried to chase the anxiety out of his mind by piping music into his ears through a pair of headphones.
But Dingle knew it would be difficult to restrain his nerves as his first college playoff game drew closer. He knew that when he stepped onto the ice, he would realize a dream he has held since he was a child.
"This is what I've dreamed of since I was a kid -- maybe not this game, or this season, but this moment of my life. The chance to play in a college playoff game," Dingle said. "Before the game, you just try to stay calm, but it's hard to avoid the butterflies and jitters. But I want to remember that feeling, these games for the rest of my life."
Dingle wouldn't trade the fluttery feeling in his stomach, or those uneasy moments that seemed to fill the locker room just before DU took the ice against Michigan Tech.
He had no idea he would score a short-handed goal late in the first period that put DU up 2-1 or that his nerves would be settled as the Pioneers rolled to a 7-1 victory in the first round of the Western Collegiate Association's end-of-season tournament. The following night, DU swept the best-of-three series when Adrian Veideman netted the game-winner in the third period.
The victory moved DU into the final five of the WCHA tournament and a meeting with North Dakota or Wisconsin on Friday in Minnesota.
Win or lose, the Pioneers will move into the NCAA tournament where Dingle will get to play in the Frozen Four -- a dream of almost every youth player who has stepped onto the ice.
"I feel so fortunate," Dingle said. "I used to watch these tournaments as a kid and dream of playing in them."
Dingle's father was a coach at Kent Denver and still remembers when his son would attend every practice and game. He said his son always had to be around the game, and he's not surprised that he is playing for DU today.
"As a parent, I used to stand around with other parents, and we would talk about our kids playing at this level," Jim Dingle said. "We would all wonder if our kids had what it takes."
Jim Dingle said it was clear, even at a young age, that his son had a natural athletic ability.
"It doesn't matter what the game is," said Jim Dingle, who still lives in Steamboat Springs. "When the game is on the line, Ryan has always wanted the puck, or the ball."
Dingle's journey to the college ranks has included stops in Steamboat and Vail at the bantam, midget and high school levels. He left his family after high school to play junior hockey in Des Moines, Iowa, and in Kearney, Neb., before landing a spot with the Pioneers.
Dingle watched last season as the Pioneers collected the national title and is excited to have contributed to the team's success in his first year.