Steamboat Springs Ryan Dingle's hard-hitting style and explosive speed will make him one of the most dangerous players in this year's Frozen Four.
But Peter Van De Carr, owner of Backdoor Sports, knows that the University of Denver forward isn't always the fierce competitor he appears to be on the ice.
He said Dingle's boyish good looks and fun-loving personality have made him one of his store's most popular employees for the past five summers.
"I'm so proud of him," Van De Carr said. "I always knew he could do this, and it's great to see him living his dream."
Van De Carr got to know the 20-year-old Steamboat Springs resident while Dingle worked at the store and during drop-in hockey sessions at Howelsen Ice Arena.
Dingle helps run the tubing operations at the downtown sporting goods store when the Yampa River is running fast. He also has worked for Ted Hoffman's in-line hockey camps. Van De Carr said Dingle's personality makes him a natural when it comes to working with the public.
"He's our Tube Miester," Van De Carr jokes. "He's just a great guy who loves to have fun."
This winter, Van De Carr has driven to Denver to watch Dingle play several home games and is even toying with the idea of making the 20-hour drive (40-hour round trip) to Columbus, Ohio, on April 7 to watch the Pioneers take on the Colorado College Tigers in the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament.
"It would be a lot of fun to jump in the car and go see the game," Van De Carr said. "But I haven't mentioned it to my wife yet."
As a freshman, Dingle already has made his mark on the University of Denver's hockey program.
On Sunday, Dingle's goal at 16:17 in the third period gave Denver a 3-2 advantage against New Hampshire in the NCAA Northeast Regional Final. His teammate, Gabe Gauthier, who finished the game with a hat trick, added an empty-netter with time running out to seal the 4-2 win.
"I got pretty excited when I saw the puck go in the back of the net," Dingle said about scoring the game-winning goal. "Something like that really gets your emotions going."
After scoring, Dingle said he forced himself to relax, knowing that New Hampshire still had time to come back in the game.
But there were no last-minute heroics for the New Hampshire team, and Denver is on its way to Ohio. It is Dingle's first chance at the Frozen Four.
"The seniors have warned us about taking it for granted," Dingle said. "As a team, we want to make the most of this opportunity. You never know if you will get this close again. ... This might be the only shot at a national championship I get. I want to make the most of it."
To win the national title, the Pioneers will need to get past a familiar foe -- the Tigers.
Denver (30-9-2) has beaten Colorado College (31-8-3) three times in five meeting this season. The two teams split the regular season before meeting in Western Collegiate Hockey Association's championship game March 19. The Pioneers skated to a 1-0 victory in that game.
Dingle expects another tough game when the teams meet at noon April 7 in the Frozen Four semifinal game.
Last weekend, Colorado Col--lege rallied from a three-goal deficit to beat Michigan in a 4-3 game that set up the rematch.
Minnesota defeated Cornell, 2-1, and North Dakota Moved past Boston College, 6-3, to round out the field at the Frozen Four. Minnesota (28-14-2) will take on North Dakota (24-14-5) at 5 p.m. Both semifinal games are expected to be televised on ESPN2.
-- To reach John F. Russell call 871-4209 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org