Sailors hope to establish winning pace

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What: Steamboat Springs High School hockey home opener

Where: Howelsen Ice Arena

When: 3 p.m. today

Cost: $3 for students and $5 for adults

This year's Steamboat Springs High School hockey team hopes to get things done a little differently - completely opposite, actually - from years past.

For the past two seasons, the Sailors have claimed the King of the Mountains tournament in Breckenridge, facing and beating some of their staunchest opponents right off the bat, only to see their seasons fizzle out on the road to the playoffs.

Last weekend, the Sailors dropped three straight King of the Mountains tournament games to Western Slope rivals Summit, Battle Mountain and Aspen. They were outscored, 13-3.

But Steamboat head coach Jeff Ruff is confident his squad sees the bigger picture in terms of the playing systems in place.

"Rather than going undefeated by watching a couple of guys be heroes, these guys stay systematic and play disciplined," Ruff said. "That's the kind of play where we'll be successful at the end of the year, and these guys realize it."

The Sailors' long-term goal of peaking at the right time against conference opponents (Steamboat dropped five of its past six games to end last season) begins with a nonconference game against Kent Denver at 3 p.m. today at Howelsen Ice Arena.

"Kent always plays tough, they draw good Denver athletes and have won state in the past," Ruff said of a team that has become a bit of rival due to the teams' recent history of tight games. "We won in overtime two years ago and played them to a tie last year."

Based on the those prior meetings, Ruff is wary of the Sun Devils' skilled offense that likes to chase the puck in transition and push a pair of players behind its opposition's net.

Knowing his team understands the overall systems, Ruff has stressed the specific angles and the smaller details and mistakes he said made all the difference against the talented teams Steamboat faced in its opening tournament.

"I think (our defensive zone coverage) is what we've worked on the most this week," Steamboat senior defenseman Matt Lettunich said. "And our scoring - as each period (in the tournament) went by, we were getting more opportunities we couldn't put away."

Lettunich and the other seniors also know the importance of opening their home season with a win, not only to set a tone, but also to avoid an 0-4 start.

"This is the first time 0-3 has happened since I've been on the team," Lettunich said. "Everyone knows it, we don't really need to talk about it."

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