Steamboat Springs At the end of the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association's regular season, Dave Strang has been used to sending one, two or maybe three teams to the league playoffs.
This year, Strang will be sending six. That doesn't include the Midget Major squad, which already secured a second-place finish at the Rocky Mountain Youth Hockey League playoffs over the weekend.
"It's no surprise to me," said Strang, the association's director of player development and coaching. "The coaches have put in a good effort and improved their skills and organization. The ability to communicate has improved organization-wide : we've taken big steps this year with off-ice training programs and coaches improving their teaching skills."
The U-12 girls secured a spot for the Mountain States Girls Hockey League's state tournament - one it took second place at last year - scheduled for March 16 to 18 in Arvada.
The boys teams have more immediate playoff games beginning Friday.
"It's been a good week of practice," Strang said of the boys teams. "They've kicked up the intensity and all look sharp."
The Squirt B, Peewee A and Peewee B teams head to the Providence Ice Centre (Windsor) while the Bantam A and Bantam B teams head to the Colorado Sports Center (Monument) for games in four-team double-elimination Continental Divide Youth Hockey League playoff tournaments.
The top two teams from each CDYHL tournament advance to take on the top two from the Colorado Competitive Youth Hockey League to determine a state champ.
The last Steamboat teams to make it the state's final four were the Peewee B and Midget B teams from the 1995-96 season, Strang said.
This season's Squirt B squad may have the most promising chance of advancing, having wrapped up Steamboat's only No. 1 seed heading into the CDYHL postseason.
"The chemistry has been there since these guys played together as Mites," Squirt B coach Bob Milne said.
The coaching consistency that Strang cited for the association's growth and success has also been there. Milne has been coaching the group of 10- and 11-year-olds with Pete Perry and Glen Martin for three years.
The Squirt Bs went 11-1-4 on the season, finishing with two big wins during the weekend in Denver.
"We needed to win both to control our destiny," Milne said of the games against the Denver Country Club Squirt Bs. "We beat them 5-0 and 3-0."
Milne credited goalies Connor Glynn and Trent Trask for the back-to-back shutouts and mentioned the solid defense of Erik Sobeck and Danny LaPointe as well as the offensive production from Patrick Milne, Jack Perry, Brandon Martin and Bobby Elliott.
Milne said if his team can replicate the stingy defense and the balanced offense between lines, the squad should fare well when it opens tournament play Friday against the Colorado Hockey Club (Colorado Springs).
Back in Steamboat, the SSYHA will host the "Skatin' the 'Boat" Mite Jamboree, Friday through Sunday at the Howelsen Ice Arena. Visit www.steamboatyouthhockey.com for the game schedule.