Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Stagecoach At this point in the season, it’s relatively thick-minded to predict what might happen in late February.
But there are many reasons to think about what could happen for the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team.
Steamboat steps out of its first post-holiday week at 7-1, tied atop the Foothills Conference. With playoff seeding determined purely by where a team finishes in its conference, Steamboat, obviously, likes its position.
But that record could be a bit deceiving. While Steamboat has outscored its opponents 31-13 in eight games, the early season schedule has been kind to the Sailors. Excepting Saturday’s 2-1 victory against Summit, Steamboat has yet to play a top-tiered team in either conference.
That doesn’t mean, though, that Steamboat isn’t dangerous.
The Sailors have as deep a team as they’ve had in the past four years. The top line of Jake Bearss, Lance Ostrom and John Wharton requires opposing teams’ best defensive pairing, every single shift.
Past Steamboat teams were able to boast a top line, but this squad also has all-important depth up front.
The second and third lines have proved capable and surprisingly rugged. The specialty units have produced power play goals and penalty kills at an incredibly proficient rate.
Then there is goalie Erik Owen. A hockey team’s best friend is a stout goalie. After almost quitting hockey three years ago, Owen has transformed into one of the preeminent goalies in the state.
Owen is tied for the league lead with five wins and is second in the state in that category. He’s also fifth in goals against and fourth in save percentage, among goalies with at least three starts in either conference.
Anyone who has watched high school hockey knows two of the most important keys are goaltending and depth.
Steamboat, at least at this point, appears to have both.
The team does have its early shortfalls. They turn the puck over too much in their own zone and the neutral zone. They can get too cute with the puck on offense. They take too many penalties, many of which could be avoided and most of which will be capitalized on by better opponents.
Still, it’s hard not to like where this team could be headed. A top-three spot in the league, and top-six seed in state, should be the baseline. A Final Four appearance in the playoffs — a place Steamboat has never been — should be the next goal.
There are games left on the schedule that should tell how good Steamboat really is. Steamboat plays at Regis on Jan. 28 and at home against Ralston Valley — potentially, the best team in the state — on Jan. 29, before closing out the season Feb. 12 at Standley Lake.
By that time, the playoff picture, and just how good this Steamboat team really is, will be much clearer.