Steamboat Springs It was something the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team had worked on all week since returning from winter break: fast starts and high tempo.
First game in 2014 for the Sailors? Check and check.
Steamboat stormed out to a 3-0 first-period lead and cashed in one more goal in the second period to blank visiting Pine Creek for the Sailors’ first home win of the season, 4-0, Friday night at Howelsen Ice Arena.
“It’s a luxury you don’t have very often,” Steamboat coach Brent Tollar said about the hot start. “It felt good for the kids to see the hard work they’re doing — buying into the system — and then they get the positive payoffs for it.”
Tollar admitted the opening practices following the holiday layoff — the Sailors hadn’t played in nearly two weeks — were a little lethargic. Steamboat entered the break dropping its opening two games at Howelsen.
But led by the trio of senior captains, Tollar said the group turned things around as the week’s practices wore on, and it showed in the early going Friday.
Senior captain Quinn Cain got things going on the scoreboard eight minutes into the game off feeds from Matt Hale and Brandon Martin. Less than a minute later, Andrew Firestone pushed things to 2-0 with his unassisted goal, and captain Ben Wharton blew things wide open in the first period’s waning moments to jump out on the Eagles, 3-0.
“We got those three goals quick, which was a good momentum boost, but we never really got comfortable, which is good,” Sailors goalie Trent Trask said. “We always kept at it and didn’t let them come back.”
On paper, the matchup of the night appeared to be which goalie would live up to his billing. Trask entered Friday with 161 saves, among the top in the Foothills Conference, and Pine Creek goalie Conor Chmelka is one of the Peak Conference’s leading keepers with 122 saves to his name.
But as Steamboat overwhelmed Chmelka and the Eagles defense on one end, Trask ate up all 13 shots he faced on the other.
The highlight of the night, however, didn’t come from Steamboat’s senior leaders or its brick-wall goalie, but rather from Jack McNamara, the only freshman on the Sailors’ roster.
Five-and-a-half minutes into the second period, McNamara took a feed from teammate Ryan Walker and found the back of the net past Chmelka and the Eagles.
What happened afterward was pure pandemonium, considering it was the freshman’s first high school goal. McNamara — or “Jack Mac” as his coach calls him — pumped his fists repeatedly and jumped shoulder-first into the glass right in front of the jam-packed Steamboat student section.
“That was really cool,” Cain said about McNamara’s goal, which proved to be the final score of the game. “We aren’t a one-man team. We gave him the puck, he got it in there nicely and he got a little crazy, but he deserved it.”
Tollar said Friday night’s shutout was a nice boost of confidence for his Sailors squad as it enters a pivotal stretch of the season.
“The bottom line is feeling like the work you’re doing is paying off,” Tollar said. “We look at January as kind of the start to the playoff run. We have to do a lot of things in our conference right to even get in the playoffs.”
Friday night was a break from league play, but this afternoon is a different story.
The Sailors (5-3) will host Foothills Conference foe Summit at 3 p.m. at Howelsen for a chance to climb back toward the top of the league standings.
“We aren’t going to stop working after this game,” Cain said. “We have a lot of points we need to keep working toward. It gives us something to carry on into Saturday.”
To reach Ben Ingersoll, call 970-871-4204, email bingersoll@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @BenMIngersoll