Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs High School hockey coach Jeff Ruff stopped short of calling this weekend's games the most important contests of the season, but he said the Sailors know what's at stake.
With wins against conference opponents Rampart and Battle Mountain to-
day and Satur-
day, Steamboat could greatly improve its seeding for the state playoffs.
The top eight teams are taken from the Peak and Foothills conferences and are then seeded based on overall records. With the Foothills Conference top heavy, Ruff knows two wins could move the Sailors (10-4-2 overall, 6-4 in conference play) into the top four of the Peak Conference and into a top-eight seed heading into the state playoffs.
"We feel good going into the weekend," Ruff said. "We feel it's the start of our playoff run. That's how we're talking about it in the locker room, and that's how the guys look at it."
Coming off one of its best games of the season against Air Academy - a 1-0 loss in which the Sailors outplayed the Kadets for three periods, Ruff said he's seen the momentum carry over.
"We've been strong in practice," Ruff said. "We're catching a lot of passes and guys are raising their games."
Ruff said Steamboat might have a little extra motivation against Rampart (10-7, 6-4). In last year's state playoffs, the Rams downed the Sailors, 3-2, in a game Ruff said was back and forth.
"Rampart beat us and knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so there is a little bit of a revenge factor," Ruff said. "They're on a losing streak now, but they've got a couple of skilled players and a cast of other skaters that will work hard."
Ruff said the Rams like collapsing on defense and moving defensemen up into the offensive zone to create scoring opportunities.
Against Battle Mountain - a team the Sailors beat 5-4 in overtime earlier in the year - Ruff said Steamboat will see a resilient team with a long history of winning.
"They're always a proud team, and they don't give up until the very last minute, so they're always dangerous," he said. "But I think our guys are confident having beat them once. We at least know we can beat them again."
Although Ruff knows Rampart and Battle Mountain (10-4, 6-2-2) are dangerous teams, he said when Steamboat plays with confidence it is one of the toughest teams in the state.
"We want to see the guys playing strong hockey, skilled hockey and playing with intensity," Ruff said. "We have to play with confidence and intensity. When we do that, we can beat any team."