SSHS hockey relies on talented young skaters | SteamboatToday.com

SSHS hockey relies on talented young skaters

Luke Graham

Steamboat Springs High School sophomore Jake Bearss, shown breaking down the ice in practice last season, is expected to be an offensive threat for the Sailors this year.

— The Steamboat Springs High School hockey team is facing a conundrum.

Depending on whom you ask and where you look, there are several ways to perceive this year’s edition of the Sailors on frozen seas. Gaze down to the third and fourth lines – which will be vital to the team’s success this season – and it’s apparent the Sailors are very young. But look in net and glance at some of the offensive and defensive pairings, and it’s apparent that Steamboat has the potential to be a top team.

In addition to junior Matt Dawes taking over as goaltender – he split time with his brother, Jeff, last year – the Sailors return their top two scorers in sophomore Jake Bearss and senior Cody Fritz.

On defense, Steamboat returns senior Eric Bonner and junior Ian Anderson, in addition to Grant Ehrick, who returns to the Sailors after a year of playing Junior AAA hockey. Ehrick was an all-state selection his freshman year and immediately should bolster the blue line.

“We’re young, but we’re fast,” Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. “We’re playing at a higher skill level than we’ve seen in previous years – maybe not on an individual basis, but on a team basis.”

Steamboat should have a pretty good chance to find out how good it is in the first week of the season. The Sailors host the Mountain Hockey Tournament on Friday and Saturday at Howelsen Ice Arena. The tournament brings in Battle Mountain, Summit and Aspen, usually three of the top teams in the state.

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“We’re excited for that tournament, certainly,” Ruff said. “Talking to coaches from Aspen, Summit and Battle Mountain, I know they’re excited, as well. These are good rivalries. A lot of the kids have gone to camp in the summer together.”

Although Ruff said he was excited to see his top offensive and defensive lines together, he said the season inevitably will come down to finding cohesion on the back two lines. If Steamboat finds that cohesion, the Sailors could finish as a top-three seed in the Peak Division.

“I just started because of football, but I’ve seen some really good talent come up from the younger guys,” Bonner said. “You never know, but I’ve noticed a little connectivity between guys.”

Maybe the biggest thing, at least early on, will be the play of Dawes. The junior spent his freshman year as the backup before leading the team in wins last year. With Dawes’ experience in net, Ruff said a lot of mistakes could be erased by strong goaltending.

“As a goalie, it could be a five-on-none, and if they score, it’s my fault if it goes in,” Dawes said. “It’s my job to be there. But we want to be in the playoffs going in with a higher seed. We want to be peaking at the end of the season instead of peaking at the middle of the season.”