Sailors hockey team focuses on playoff performance

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Steamboat Springs Hockey, 2008-09

Steamboat Springs High School senior hockey player Eric Bonner is sick of losing in the first round of the state playoffs.

As a fixture on the blue line for three-plus years, Bonner has seen his team start fast, falter down the stretch and exit the playoffs after only one game.

So in his final year, and in his final regular season games as a Sailor, Bonner knows what is at stake when Steamboat welcomes Pine Creek for a 6:30 p.m. game today and Palmer for a 3 p.m. game Saturday. The games are at Howelsen Ice Arena.

"It's getting kind of tedious. It kind of sucks," Bonner said about all the first-round exits. "We've always put together a good team, but at the end of the year, it seems like we go on the down slope. This year, we've been playing pretty steady. It would sure be nice to get past the first round."

Getting past that first round means getting the best possible seed. In the past three years, Steamboat never has been seeded higher than 10th in the 16-team bracket.

With two wins during the weekend, Steamboat has a legitimate shot of getting a top-eight seed and a better shot at seeing that second round.

"Conceivably, we can come away with a top-eight seed," Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. "That goes a long way in getting you into the second round and into the final rounds of the playoffs."

Getting that seed starts with Pine Creek on Friday. Traditionally a strong program, the Eagles are only 2-15-1 this season. Still, Ruff said that at this point in the season, it's not necessarily whom the Sailors play, but rather how they play.

"I want to see some consistency going into the playoffs," Ruff said. "I want to see the ability to get scoring from three lines. I want consistency in our ability to come out (and) play the kind of game we want to play from the start."

Against Palmer, currently second in the Peak Conference, Ruff said Steamboat (13-4 overall) will have to start quick and take advantage of the home ice. The Terrors started the season strong but are just 1-3 in their past four games.

Ruff said he thinks Steamboat can come away from the weekend with a couple of wins, as long as the team plays at a high level like it has shown throughout the season. Although the playoffs are guaranteed, Ruff said the two games during the weekend will go a long way in deciding how far the Sailors go in the playoffs.

"I just don't want our guys to come away from the weekend saying, 'I wish we would have played harder, or I wish we would have taken more shots,'" he said. "We're in the playoffs, no matter what. At this point, it's just trying to get that higher seed."

- To reach Luke Graham, call 871-4229

or e-mail lgraham@steamboatpilot.com

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