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 It very well could come down to mid-February to decide the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team’s playoff fate.
The team sits just one spot out of the last playoff position and when looking at the schedule ahead, Steamboat plays three of its last four games against teams ahead of it in the standings.
So win, and the team is in.
But just getting to this point has been quite the accomplishment. The Sailors are 5-0-1 in their last six games.
After an ugly 6-3 loss Jan. 7 to Summit, Steamboat found itself in the basement of the standings with little chance to make the playoffs.
In that game against Summit, everything that was wrong with the team came out.
They took undisciplined penalties. They turned the puck over at an alarming rate in their own zone. The neutral zone belonged to Summit.
In the third period of that game, and down just one goal, Steamboat spent 12 of the 17 minutes of the period in the penalty box.
That is no way to win.
From that point, the season was ratcheted up a notch.
It became a playoff-like scenario. With a roster full of sophomores and just three seniors, the pressure-packed situation would tell what type of team the Sailors were. They could have packed it in and called the season a wash, blamed it on the youths at every level and for most who were focused on lacrosse in the spring.
But something happened after Summit. Steamboat started to play its systems. Sophomore goalie Trent Trask finally grasped the No. 1 position.
The top line of John Wharton, Matt Hale and Lance Ostrom started to go on a tear. The three have scored 20 goals in the last six games, spurring Steamboat back into the race. Junior defenseman Christian Ramirez has been as good as he has in his high school career.
Steamboat getting back into the race proves how far along this team actually has come.
They’ve gone from a poor defensive and occasionally OK offensive team, to one that actually looks like a playoff contender.
Keep in mind that five of the last six games have come against teams behind the Sailors in the standings.
But the team has to start somewhere.
With three crucial games this week and one to follow, Steamboat has a chance to be evidence of a team growing up.
Going from pre-holiday play that made people shutter to how it is playing now no doubt has been one of the most telling developments of this high school season.
Now it’s a matter of finishing it off. By my account, Steamboat needs to win at least three of its last four to ensure the playoffs. Win four in a row and it’s guaranteed. Go 2-2 and start getting ready for lacrosse season.
But one thing this group can take solace in, no matter how the next two weeks work out, is that they’ve battled.
They’ve gone from the playoffs being a distant dot way on the horizon, to controlling their own destiny.
Now all they have to do is keep winning.
To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com