Steamboat set to battle Roaring Fork

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Sailors hockey opens season today

The Steamboat Springs High School hockey team opens the season in the King of Mountain Tournament at 4:45 p.m. today in Summit.

Steamboat will play host school Summit before playing Battle Mountain and Aspen on Saturday.

Sailors head coach Jeff Ruff said the team is ready to play after several weeks of practice.

"We're not putting as much emphasis on winning this tournament at all costs," said Ruff, whose Sailors have won the past two King of the Mountain tournaments before faltering down the stretch. "We're looking at this to sure up our lines and compete at a high level."

The Sailors will have to compete at a high level with games against perennial powerhouses Summit, Battle Mountain and Aspen on the schedule.

Aspen - the defending state champion - enters the year returning the core of its team.

"It's important to start strong," Ruff said. "Our guys need to see that they can compete, but we do expect to do well."

Steamboat's first home game is against Kent Denver at 3 p.m. Dec. 8 at Howelsen Ice Arena.

— There's no hiding it. Steamboat Springs High School boys basketball coach Kelly Meek is set for a battle.

Playing Roaring Fork - a team a classification below Steamboat - in the opening game of the Brenda Patch Tournament at 8 p.m. today might seem like an easy way to open the season for a Sailors team coming off a 20-5 year.

But the Rams are a team that's been to the Class 3A championship game three of the past four years, hasn't lost a league game since 2002, enters the season ranked as high as No. 4, and has what might be the most talented roster in school history.

"They are loaded," said Meek, whose team will close out the tournament at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Coal Ridge. "It's great for us, though, to open with a strong opponent."

Although Roaring Fork lost four starters from last year, it returns 6-foot-8 Torrey Udall and adds another 6-foot-8 power forward in Walker Abrahamovich.

But what concerns Meek the most might be the Rams' new point guard.

Matthias Weissl, a 6-foot-2 guard who played for the Austrian junior national team, may be the best player no one in the state has heard of.

"Whether you score or you don't score, they're up and down the court," Meek said. "If they don't have a fast break, they work the ball around until they get a good shot."

Last year, Roaring Fork beat Steamboat, 59-39.

Although Meek knows Roaring Fork is a formidable opponent, he also said Steamboat's further along at this point this year than the team was last year.

That doesn't mean Steamboat - ranked No. 4 by the Rocky Mountain News, No. 6 by The Denver Post and No. 3 by Colorado Preps - enters the game at 100 percent. Returning all-state guards Aaron Calkins (Mononucleosis) and Michael Vandahl (knee) have been limited in practice. Fellow starter Alex Wood is recovering from a hip injury suffered during football season.

Still, Meek said the Sailors have been playing well in practice. Including Calkins, Vandahl and Wood, Meek said he expects big things from three-year starter Colby Kostur.

Meek said he's happy Steamboat gets the chance to play such a tough opponent early on, especially considering the team still has two tough tournaments - including the Steamboat Shootout - before the league season starts.

"We're going to be seeing a lot of teams with great shooters from deep, and we'll see a smattering of big people who can step out and shoot," Meek said. "It's going to tell us a lot on where our defensive and mental tenacity is."

Girls team looking

to get off to fast start

On the girls side, second-year Steamboat coach John Ameen enters the Brenda Patch Tournament with confidence and a positive outlook after a 2-17 first season.

Steamboat opens against Roaring Fork at 6:30 p.m. today. The team will play Coal Ridge at 1 p.m. Saturday.

Ameen said the team and the vibe around the program are much different from a year ago.

"You feel a lot better than last year," Ameen said. "You're confident in a lot of things we didn't do well. It's going to be a lot different. It's going to be more enjoyable for the players."

Roaring Fork comes into the game after a 10-10 season, but returns eight seniors.

Ameen said the Rams are a good team that relies on creating turnovers out of its 1-3-1 zone defense.

"It's a difficult defense to play against," Ameen said. "It makes offenses rush. They averaged a good amount of points, and I guarantee it's because of that defense."

The biggest factor, Ameen said, will be for Steamboat to keep its composure in the face of the defensive pressure. That's something Ameen expects more of this year considering he's been able to put in a full year of offseason workouts with his team.

"I've never walked into a game on the defensive end and not been very confident," Ameen said. "It's on the offensive end, are we doing things we need to do to be successful? It's a matter of taking care of the basketball."

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229 or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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