Steamboat Springs The Steamboat Springs High School hockey team has a chance to make good on a promise it made before the beginning of the season.
Whereas past Steamboat teams started strong before sputtering down the stretch, the eight seniors on this season's Sailors team made a vow to get better with each passing week and play their best come playoff time. Steamboat opens the first round of the playoffs at 5:45 p.m. Friday at Littleton's Edge Ice Arena.
Steamboat comes in as the No. 10 seed and will be matched up with seventh-seeded and defending state champion Aspen.
The Sailors have fallen twice to the Skiers this season, by a combined score of 8-1.
Despite the lopsided scores, Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said his team is itching to play and prove the Sailors have become a team hitting their stride at the right time.
"We've played them relatively evenly for enough periods that we just need to put together three periods and we'll be successful," Ruff said.
In the two teams' first meeting of the year, Steamboat was missing several seniors because of ACT testing.
In the latest meeting - a 4-1 Aspen win - Steamboat played well for two-plus periods before several mental mistakes cost the Sailors. Steamboat went into the third period down 1-0, before a 5-on-3 goal and an empty net goal put the game out of reach.
Ruff said as the third matchup with Aspen approaches, he's seen a confident Steamboat team take the ice in practice. He said the focus has been on getting the puck deep into the Aspen zone and forechecking.
But maybe the most important thing, he said, will be getting off to a fast start.
"We'd like to go into the break with a lead," said Ruff, noting Steamboat's lost only once this season when the team has scored first. "If we go into the locker room with a lead, it's going to do a lot and send a message we're here to play. We play a lot better hockey when we're tied or leading. When you play from behind you play nervous. We know that about ourselves."
Although Aspen has won eight straight games, Ruff said he feels Steamboat is ready to play its best hockey of the year.
"The team has loved the support from the community and they're going to try and make it to the final week," Ruff said. "We want to pay that loyalty to our fans (by) going deeper into the playoffs. Our guys are interested in paying the fans back for their support with good quality play in the playoffs."
If Steamboat wins, the Sailors will play the winner of second-seeded Regis and No. 15 Standley Lake, in a second-round match scheduled for 8 p.m. Saturday at the Edge Ice Arena.
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