Instead of focusing his efforts on the three visiting teams for today and Saturday's King of the Mountain Hockey Tournament, Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff has taken a little different approach.
With an interesting lineup that has several multiple-year starters on the top lines and a lot of inexperience in the third and fourth lines, Ruff said he's not necessarily judging the tournament on pure wins and losses.
Instead, he's using the two days as a gauge of what type of team he'll have this season. The tournament brings high school squads from Aspen, Summit and Battle Mountain to Howelsen Ice Arena.
"It's not as much reacting to the other teams," Ruff said. "What we've talked to our team about is we need to come up with our own game. We need to create our own identity in this tournament. As a coach, I can say we are a fast team or we're a hard-working team. But these games will help solidify that."
That doesn't mean Ruff and the Sailors don't want to win. The team opens play at 6:15 p.m. today against Aspen. Steamboat continues play at 10:15 a.m. Saturday against Battle Mountain before finishing up with a 6:15 p.m. game with Summit.
Ruff said with a two-day, three game tournament, the focus always is conditioning and seeing how his players can hold up.
It also means Ruff won't be able to rely solely on his first two lines. Steamboat will use four lines to keep players fresh.
"We'll roll lines and see what we have," he said. "There are some unknowns on our bench, as well. So we'll see some of our young guys play."
Two players Ruff won't have to worry about are goalie Matt Dawes and forward Cody Fritz.
Both return to form a core of the Sailors roster. Dawes led the team in wins last year, and Fritz returns as the team's leading scorer.
Both will be expected to help lead the team through the early season tournament.
"Maybe there is a little extra pressure," Dawes said. "But I can only control what I control. Everybody is going to make mistakes. I just have to focus on one shot at a time and control what I can control."
While Ruff admits there are some question marks coming into the season, he said he likes the layout of his team.
He said it may take some time, but this certainly is a team fans will enjoy watching.
"We've had teams five years ago that had more individual skill, but this team has the highest team skill level that we've had," Ruff said. "We will be successful if we play a team game, move the puck and play fast. It's how well we execute our game within our system."
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