Matt Hale is expected to give this year’s Steamboat Springs High School hockey team some offensive power. Hale led the team in scoring last year and returns this season when the team takes the ice at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Battle Mountain.

Photo by John F. Russell

Matt Hale is expected to give this year’s Steamboat Springs High School hockey team some offensive power. Hale led the team in scoring last year and returns this season when the team takes the ice at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Battle Mountain.

Steamboat Springs hockey team looks to new season, new coach

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If you go

What: Steamboat vs. Battle Mountain high school hockey

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Howelsen Ice Arena in Steamboat Springs

— As Gary Bettman and the NHL bumble their way through another work stoppage, there is still quality hockey to be watched and played.

Steamboat Springs residents need look no farther than the Howelsen Ice Arena.

“We’re keeping (Bettman) out of the mix,” first-year Steamboat Springs High School hockey coach Brent Tollar joked recently. “Management and our players have gotten along just fine.”

Kidding aside, the Sailors are the only game in town. Steamboat's high school hockey program has been the model of efficiency, qualifying for the state playoffs the past 10 years.

But more so than perhaps any previous season, this one brings a lot of uncertainty.

Tollar, who has been the director of the Steamboat Springs Youth Hockey Association, takes over for longtime coach Jeff Ruff. Ruff stepped down after last year, his 10th in the program and sixth as its head coach.

“It’s been a conversation of players getting to know the new coach and the coach getting to know new players,” Tollar said. “So far it has felt like a smooth transition.”

Steamboat lost three seniors from last year's team, but it returns a bulk of its scoring punch.

Leading goal scorer Matt Hale (19 goals, 29 points last year) returns, as does Ben Wharton, Alex Elliott and Jarret Walt. That’s four of the team's eight forwards from a year ago.

Defensively, offensive minded senior Christian Ramirez and Tyler Scott return to bolster the blue line.

“We kept some of the same systems and put some new ones in,” Ramirez said. “But with the skill of the team, I think we can make any system work.”

Tollar said the Sailors plan to implement a more high-tempo attack. Considering the team's depth, bolstered by a strong junior class, Tollar said the goal each game is to keep shifts as short as possible.

“We want a high-tempo, high-contact game of hockey,” he said. “There is going to be a lot of flow. We want a game that’s constantly moving. It’s going to be high-paced.”

Steamboat remains in the daunting Foothills Conference. The Sailors qualified for the playoffs in the final week of the season last year, and then lost to Resurrection Christian in the first round.

Tollar is quiet about the team's goals for the season, saying only that he wants to carry on the proud tradition of Steamboat hockey.

In those terms, making the playoffs is the baseline.

“I’d like to say win state,” Ramirez said. “I think this group believes it can. I’ve seen everyone really buy into (Tollar). I think everyone really believes it.”

Steamboat begins its season at 6:30 p.m. today at home against Battle Mountain.

To reach Luke Graham, call 970-871-4229 or email lgraham@SteamboatToday.com

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