Steamboat hockey set to take on Pueblo County

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Steamboat Springs High School hockey coach Jeff Ruff doesn't even have to bring it up - his players already know.

The Sailors have suffered late-season collapses, dropping games after the holiday break in each of the past two seasons.

So, when Steamboat returns from the break at 6:30 p.m. today against Pueblo County at Howelsen Ice Arena, Ruff said the players know what is at stake.

"There is enough leadership in the locker room that they know," said Ruff, whose team then plays at 1:15 p.m. Saturday at Rampart. "Grant Ehrick was here as a freshman and sophomore. He was on that team that was 10-1 and then stalled with seven games left in the season. Cody Fritz and Eric Bonner were guys that were here and talk about it enough on their own. It's better coming from them. They're the guys who witnessed it and are most interested in preventing it."

Steamboat skated to an impressive 6-1 start before the holiday break. The Sailors' lone loss came against Lewis-Palmer, a team expected to be one of the final four teams at the state tournament.

Looking back at the tape of the Lewis-Palmer game, Ruff said Steamboat had its opportunities early. He said he's using that game as a building opportunity for the second part of the season.

"We're not looking at any team as an easy team to beat," Ruff said. 'It's caught us in past years saying, 'Oh, they're 1-6.' We're preparing as if it's going to be a high-level contest."

As much as the focus is on Pueblo County, the redemption game will be Rampart. Last year, Steamboat took a 3-0 lead against Rampart before falling, 4-3. The loss moved the Sailors from sole possession of third place in their conference and gave them a worse playoff seed.

"That left a bitter taste," Ruff said.

While the holiday break left plenty of questions, it also allowed several Sailors to heal. Although Steamboat will be without defenseman Ian Anderson for two more weeks, the team will get back winger Kaelen Gunderson. Gunderson's return should help Steamboat get more balanced scoring, something Ruff said is important as the season progresses.

"They're definitely itching to get back out there," Ruff said. "It's the same sort of thing that happened at the beginning of the season. You don't have any contests for three weeks. We just need to play."

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