Heavy on the 'D'

Seniors anchor formidable defense for Sailors hockey team


2006 Steamboat boys hockey schedule

6 p.m., Dec. 1 vs. Summit at Mountain Round Robin Tournament in Vail

9 a.m., Dec. 2 vs. Aspen at Mountain Round Robin Tournament in Vail

3 p.m., Dec. 2 vs. Battle Mountain at Mountain Round Robin Tournament in Vail

1:15 p.m., Dec. 9 vs. Summit

1:15 p.m., Dec. 16 vs. Aspen

2:20 p.m., Dec. 22 at Kent Denver

4 p.m., Jan. 5 at Cheyenne Mountain (Sertich Arena)

10:45 a.m., Jan. 6 at Liberty (Honnen Arena)

6:45 p.m., Jan 12 at Mitchell (Honnen Arena)

10:45 a.m., Jan. 13 at Doherty (Honnen Arena)

6:30 p.m., Jan. 19 vs. Lewis-Palmer

1:15 p.m., Jan 20 vs. Coronado

6:30 p.m., Jan 26 vs. Pine Creek

1:15 p.m., Jan. 27 vs. Pueblo County

6:30 p.m., Feb. 2 vs. Palmer

1:15 p.m., Feb. 3 vs. Air Academy

4:45 p.m. Feb. 9 at Rampart

6:30 p.m., Feb. 10 at Battle Mountain (Eagle Rink)

TBA, Feb. 16 Hockey State Playoffs Round 1 at Summit


Steamboat Springs' Tim Rabbitt fires a shot on goal during practice at the Howelsen Ice Arena during practice earlier this week.

— Having lost seven players from a hockey team that went 13-7, the Steamboat Springs Sailors understand the challenge ahead, particularly the five seniors.

Seniors Tim Ascher and Jim Terry said this week they have to set the tone for the younger players.

"These younger guys come up from Bantams and aren't used to the speed and intensity of the game - you have to move the puck, or you're going to get leveled," Terry said. "It's not just about being in the right place at the right time, it's about knowing the systems and knowing where other players are."

"We need to talk to the younger guys, but we still have to step up," Ascher added.

Head coach Jeff Ruff said the team has to increase its conceptual strategy, which he calls "the gray matter."

"The red matter, the muscles, are good," Ruff said. "It's the higher gray matter - knowing the game, anticipation and awareness away from the puck - that we're focusing on."

Confident that many players on his roster honed their fundamentals on Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association teams, Ruff is focused on teaching more complex forecheck and defensive zone systems. With this year's talented young crop, Ruff will challenge the younger players to step into contributing roles.

"If they were on fourth line last year and saw six shifts a game, now they're going to be on third line," Ruff said. "And your line must produce."

Ruff thinks the strength of this year's team lies in a large, talented and experienced defense. Ascher and senior Jace Bonner will be Ruff's first defensive pairing, followed by junior Matt Lettunich and sophomore Grant Ehrick, who won all-state honorable mention and was one of the team's top goal scorers as a freshman. The third pairing likely will be the senior tandem of Jake Dombrowski and Bjorn Lickteig. Junior Jeff Dawes will be back as the team's starting goalkeeper.

With the skilled defenders, Ruff hopes to load the defensive zone low to secure the puck and move it out of the zone with speed and efficiency. Ruff named juniors Greg Ingalls and Cam Fritz as the team's top center icemen. The first line will set up Ingalls with the "go-to" left wing of junior Jake Stanford and the physical presence of Terry on the right wing.

Ruff thinks the new high school rules that cut down on obstruction penalties should favor the speed of the line. The second line will feature Fritz and his sophomore brother, Cody. Ruff is still considering spots on the rest of the lines, looking to the six-member development squad the team carries in place of a junior varsity team.

The addition of five new teams will realign the Colorado High School Activities Association's sanctioned league into two larger conferences. Steamboat will face many new teams in the 13-team Peak Conference, in which single games against conference opponents will replace two-game series.

Ruff hopes to start this season at the Mountain Round Robin Tournament in Vail just like Steamboat did last season. A tournament win featured the program's first win against Aspen and set up a six-game winning streak. More importantly for Ruff, the early wins showed his players they could compete with the state's best.

"We have the skill," Ruff said, "it's just a question of the guys believing that they can win and contend."


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