Steamboat Springs Sometimes a loss can be a good thing - especially when it happens to a team as green as Steamboat against a team as rugged and storied as Cheyenne Mountain.
Although Saturday's 5-4 loss at Howelsen Ice Arena puts the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team at 2-5 overall and 1-1 in league play, the sentiment around the locker room after the game was that this wasn't just a step in the right direction, it was a leap.
"We're playing at a level right now where we can beat the top teams," Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. "The guys have proven to themselves with the way they can play. It's a huge boost to our season."
Early on, however, the Sailors looked weary and wide-eyed of the Indians.
Except for a Cam Fritz unassisted goal 10 minutes into the first period, Cheyenne Mountain looked every bit the part of a team that's made the state Final Four 24 years running.
The Indians scored three first-period goals and looked like they were on their way to a rout.
But Steamboat battled back in the last two periods, at times even dominating play.
Jake Bearss drew the Sailors within one goal, at 3-2, midway through the second period when he scored on a rebound.
After Cheyenne Mountain's Josh Holmes made it 4-2 with less than five minutes to go in the period, senior Billy Taylor again brought Steamboat within one when he forced a turnover at the Indians' blue line, skated in all alone and put the puck in the back of the net.
In the third period, Steamboat struggled to keep five players on the ice. Four minor penalties put Steamboat on the penalty kill for most of the period.
Cheyenne Mountain capitalized at the 10:23 mark when Ethan Jervik scored on a rebound.
Down 5-3, Steamboat still wouldn't go away.
Bearss scored his second goal of the game from an improbable angle with 1:09 left.
Bearss - who was almost parallel to the side of the net - collected the puck on the right side and snuck a shot over Hunter Douglas' shoulder.
"I sniped it," the freshman said. "It was a water-well shot."
Steamboat's Cam Fritz just missed tying the game with seven seconds remaining when his rebound try deflected just wide.
"We were sick of losing," said Steamboat goalie Jeff Dawes, who stopped 20 shots on the night. "We finally started to play. No one has their head down. If we play like that, we can play with anyone."
Steamboat continues league play at 7 p.m. Friday at Air Academy.
Air Academy - much like Cheyenne Mountain - is one of the top teams in the state and advanced to the Final Four last year.
"We knew if we played our best, we'd give them a run for their money," Bearss said. "This puts us up to a level where we need to stay. We can't go down now."