Luke Graham's column appears periodically in the Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4229 or lgraham@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs One of the great things about watching high school hockey is seeing Ben Wharton on the forecheck at full speed delivering — or taking — a hit.
It’s not that Wharton’s overly physical or that his hits rattle the arena. Understand that Wharton is 5-feet-7-inches, weighs all of 148 pounds and is a freshman playing among juniors and seniors.
“I’m usually the littlest,” he said.
But that’s a testament to Wharton’s ability. He joined select company this year by making varsity as a freshman.
Steamboat has an abundance of talented young hockey players. For Wharton, his options were either make the high school team or play with the Midget team.
He started working in summer on his goal of making the high school team.
Wharton had a built-in advantage right in his own household. His brother, John, is a senior on the team and was one of the few to make the team as a freshman.
Ben Wharton leaned on John and asked the coaches what it would take to make the team.
“I told him, first of all, you need to work on speed,” Steamboat Springs High School coach Jeff Ruff said. “You need to get faster. You’re not playing at the speed you need to be to be competitive.”
So that’s what Wharton did. He got into the summer program, leaned on his brother and other seniors and knew that when tryouts came, he’d make the team.
Making the team is one thing. Succeeding like Wharton has is another. For all intents and purposes, Wharton has been a key reason Steamboat is 10-2 and heading into its biggest week of the season. Wharton is tied for fourth on the team in scoring.
Earlier this season, when Steamboat lost several forwards, Wharton filled in on a line with Alex Elliott and Blayne Conroy.
For a four-game stretch against Peak to Peak, Monarch, Summit and Pueblo County, that line was Steamboat’s best. He has a great feel for the game. He never tries to do too much.
Ruff saw it when he taught Wharton in seventh grade. He knew he was intelligent and that he could play some hockey.
Toss in a good locker room like Steamboat has, where the leadership of the team embraces the young players, and Wharton’s in a perfect place.
And he has a strong desire to get better.
Wharton’s gone from an unknown to a key player who’s hard not to notice.
Even if he is 5-feet-7-inches and 148 pounds.