Steamboat Springs With one eye on his future, Matt Dawes simply couldn't pass up the opportunity to play in one of the most competitive leagues in the nation.
Dawes, an All-Colorado selection as goalie last season for the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team, recently made the Colorado Thunderbirds Midget Major U-18 AAA team. The team, based out of Denver, plays teams from across the country in a highly competitive league.
"This popped up, and I really thought about it," Dawes said. "I thought about how much I want to play at the next level. This leads to the next level."
It also means that come winter, Dawes won't be in net for Steamboat. After his performance last season and attendance at several top-level prospect camps, Dawes was given the opportunity to tryout for the Thunderbirds.
The coaches for the Thunderbirds saw Dawes compete at the Chicago Showcase and invited him and 12 other goalies to the tryouts. The tryouts consisted of conditioning and goaltending drills. Each goalie also played a period in net during a scrimmage.
"I was not thinking about the pressure," Dawes said. "I wanted to make things simple. That's the big thing about tryouts. You have to face the facts. The tryout was one save at a time and keep things simple."
Dawes made the cut along with a goalie from Texas.
The move also means Dawes will enroll for his senior year at Cherry Creek High School. Practice starts Sept. 1, and the season runs until March or April depending on how the Thunderbirds perform.
The team plays more than 60 regular season games across the country. More than 60 percent of the players go on to play junior or collegiate hockey.
Dawes, whose ultimate goal is to play at the Division I level, said playing for the Thunderbirds gives him the best chance to get there.
"What's at the end of the tunnel is Division I," he said. "I'm just at the bottom of the ladder climbing up."
Dawes said it was bittersweet making the team. He said he certainly thought about staying in Steamboat for his senior season, but the opportunity to play at such a high level was hard to pass up.
He just returned from a goaltender camp in Buffalo, N.Y., and said he'll spend the next week moving to Denver and working on his conditioning.
"We have always believed our job with any hockey player is to help them reach their goals," Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. "We want them to do the best they can to reach their potential. Though we would have like Matt to play one more year, for him to reach his goals, this was probably a good move for him."