Steamboat hockey picks up big 8-2 win against Aspen on Friday |

Steamboat hockey picks up big 8-2 win against Aspen on Friday

Steamboat’s John Wharton tries to fire a shot past the Aspen goalie Friday. Wharton didn’t score on the play

Steamboat's John Wharton tries to fire a shot past the Aspen goalie Friday. Wharton didn't score on the play, but Steamboat's pressure throughout the game yielded plenty of goals. The Sailors won, 8-2.
Joel Reichenberger

— From playoff hopes to league standings, from season momentum to simple player morale, this one was big. The Steamboat Springs High School hockey team already had beat Aspen earlier in the season, but the squad's Friday night 8-2 win against the Skiers was as important as they come.

It was the first step in what the Sailors hope is the turnaround of their season.

"This was extremely important," junior Alex Elliott said. "This is the kind of game that can turn around our season."

Steamboat entered the game as a team frustrated and searching for its identity. In a game a week ago against Summit, the Sailors' most distinguishing characteristic had been penalties, the squad racking up 31 minutes in penalty time in the 6-3 loss. It all came to a head in a disastrous third period, 17 minutes of hockey in which Steamboat dealt with 21 minutes of penalties and gave up two crucial goals.

On Friday, coach Jeff Ruff challenged his team to look past those mistakes, past frustrations with referees and even teammates, and to focus on individual tasks.

"I challenged the guys to own their game," Ruff said. "I told everyone to take responsibility for their job, for their line, to stay within the game plan and to play hard."

Aspen scored first, the Skiers' Julian Gregory striking less than two minutes into the game.

Steamboat had little trouble finding answers. Elliott and Matt Hale scored in the first period. Gregory scored again early in the second to knot things at two, but Steamboat's Christian Ramirez hammered home two goals in less than 90 seconds, opening up the game.

A Sailors surge in the third period made the action seem even more uneven. The squad was able to repeatedly take advantage of its speed, beating Aspen's defense to loose pucks.

Ruff said the Steamboat team from a week ago held on to the puck and tried to carry it down the ice in control. The Steamboat team Friday night launched the puck ahead, confident that its scorers would win the race.

They did. Hale, Elliott, Ben Wharton and John Wharton all added goals in the third period, helping lift Steamboat to its most lopsided win of the season.

"They responded really well after that loss last week," Ruff said. "They came back like they had something they wanted to show each other."

The win was crucial for Steamboat, which had fallen far behind in the Front Range conference race. As far as that goes, Saturday’s road game against Peak conference foe Pueblo County doesn't carry nearly the same weight.

The Sailors don't figure they have any momentum to give away, however, and like Friday's game, they consider Saturday's nearly a must-win.

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email