Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs High School hockey team feels about ready to explode.
A canceled game and a nine-day holiday break leaves the Sailors with only two chances in a month-long period to face off with an opponent.
Head coach Jeff Ruff has noticed the mounting sense of urgency that has translated into harder workouts and more focused practices.
"This is one of the best teams we've ever had in terms of how they come together," Ruff said. "They believe that they have to work within the framework and are buying into what we're teaching them to improve. The conditioning is about twice as much as last year and even off-ice, we'll meet every day outside the high school to condition or look at film."
Perhaps Steamboat's extra motivator is the uncommon string of four losses - all against legitimate title-contending teams - to kick off its season. Now, both Ruff and his players feel this "chomping at the bit" attitude will translate into a statement performance when Steamboat takes the ice against Pueblo County at 5:30 p.m. today at Pueblo Plaza Ice Arena.
"I'm feeling we're going to have one big game and feed off that all season," Steamboat senior goalkeeper Jeff Dawes said before Thursday's practice. "It's tough because the past two years, we've won the opening (King of the Mountains) tournament. It's a new thing for me and for the team to have to learn to lose early."
Ruff said the early adversity has brought the team together. Dawes said he's seen that translate into improvements with all the smaller details of play, from catching pucks to finishing checks.
The bigger issue facing Steamboat still is in offensive production - so far, the Sailors have been out-scored 17-5.
But after addressing the offense, and the power play in particular, this week, Dawes thought today's matchup with the 0-3 Pueblo County squad would be the perfect chance to set things straight.
"We'll get back in our groove. I've got a feeling (today)'s game will be a showing of what we can do," Dawes said.
Although the game is against a Peak Conference opponent, it will not count toward Steamboat's conference record, since the two teams face one another again Jan. 19 in Pueblo.