Sailors hockey shoots for top

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2009-10 SSHS hockey schedule

4 p.m. Friday vs. Summit at Mountain Hockey Tournament in Aspen

8 a.m. Saturday vs. Battle Mountain at Mountain Hockey Tournament in Aspen

4:45 p.m. Saturday vs. Aspen at Mountain Hockey Tournament in Aspen

6:30 p.m. Dec. 11 vs. Fountain Valley

3 p.m. Dec. 12 vs. Mullen

4:15 p.m. Dec. 18 at Palmer

8 p.m. Dec. 19 at Chatfield

6:30 p.m. Jan. 8 vs. Rampart

8 p.m. Jan. 15 at Lewis-Palmer

11 a.m. Jan. 16 at Air Academy

6:45 p.m. Jan. 18 vs. Battle Mountain

6:30 p.m. Jan. 22 vs. Liberty

7:15 p.m. Jan. 30 at Doherty

5:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Pueblo County

7:10 p.m. Feb. 6 at Valor Christian

3 p.m. Feb. 8 at Pine Creek

6:45 p.m. Feb 10 vs. Standley Lake

6:30 p.m. Feb 12 vs. Coronado

3 p.m. Feb 13 vs. Cheyenne Mountain

TBA Feb. 19 round 1 of playoffs

TBA Feb. 20 quarterfinals of playoffs

TBA Feb. 26 semifinals of playoffs

TBA Feb. 27 state finals

— The easy assumption is to think the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team would be rebuilding this season.

It’s the common thought when All-Colorado goaltender Matt Dawes transferred out before the start of his senior season to play club hockey down in Denver.

But look a little past the accolades of Dawes — all deserved — and people will find 14 returning lettermen from last season’s team, which advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.

Go even further, and the Sailors aren’t a one-man team. Instead, they’re a group of highly skilled players, ready to light up the scoreboard.

“We possess a higher skill level than we have in the past couple of years,” said Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff, whose team opened up No. 4 in The Denver Post preseason hockey poll. “We’re going to need to use that skill to make up for what we might see as a lack of size. We’re not very big, but our commitment to conditioning started a couple years ago will help us. What we’re going to try to do is score a lot of goals.”

Leading the way for the Sailors is a returning contingent of top forwards.

Jake Bearss, Jon Winkelblech, John Wharton, Lance Ostrom, Kaelen Gunderson, Blayne Conroy and Skylar Martin return from last season’s team.

Add in versatile centerman Vladan Chase, and it’s not hard to see why Ruff thinks the offense can provide the Sailors a spark.

Defensively, Steamboat will rely on Brady Bender, Ian Anderson and Patrick Weston — players who are as adept at stopping the puck as they are at scoring it.

“The first year I played, I thought our individual skill was probably the best,” Anderson said.

“Last year was more of a team skill. This year I feel there is more of a combination of both. I feel it’s really going to be a great year.”

The one question mark heading into the season is who will fill Dawes’ skates. Goaltenders Erik Owen and Joey Haight each will get starts early in the season. Ruff said he has confidence in both and said each will grow up as the season progresses.

“I don’t really have any expectations battling against Erik,” Haight said. “Right now I’m just working on improving overall. I’m just trying to be the best I can be. My main goal is to improve the whole team. I’ve got some nerves, but I’m confident in what I can do.”

Advancing to the second round last season marked the furthest a Steamboat hockey team had gone.

Judging by what the Peak Conference has to offer — stalwarts Lewis-Palmer, Cheyenne Mountain and Battle Mountain — Ruff said he’s confident Steamboat can finish in the top two of its conference and garner a top-eight seed in the playoffs.

“The goal is always to make it to playoffs and get the best seeding we can,” said Anderson, who will serve as the team’s captain. “From there it’s one game at a time. We have to win that first game and that second game. We have to get into the Final Four and win the semifinal game and get into the finals.”

And from there?

“Win state,” Bearss said. “I think we have a good chance if we keep working as hard as we have.”

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

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