Hockey lights up Lancers | SteamboatToday.com

Hockey lights up Lancers

Steamboat Sailors look ahead to playoff seeding

Dave Shively

— After a rough 6-0 loss to Battle Mountain on their home ice Wednesday, the nine seniors on the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team were determined to bounce back and close their regular season with a positive stride.

So in their final appearance of the season at Howelsen Ice Arena, the Sailors flipped the script, pulling off a 6-0 shutout in their own favor Saturday night against the Liberty Lancers.

“Come end of the season, with all the seniors on the team, we realize it’s crunch time and that we need to keep our energy up for the playoffs,” senior captain Greg Ingalls said.

That energy wasn’t immediately apparent in a slow first period, but Steamboat eventually opened the offensive floodgates, out-shooting Liberty 40-12. Cam Fritz and Tim Rabbitt both had their chances. Then, after Steamboat goalkeeper Jeff Dawes stopped a fluke breakaway attempt from Liberty’s Jacob Fitzpatrick, the Steamboat defense put the Sailors on the board. First, Alex Palaniuk nailed a slap shot from a foot inside the blue line to put the Sailors up 1-0. Two minutes later, Matt Lettunich slid the puck across the ice from the point to Eric Bonner, who one-timed another outside slapper past Liberty goalie T.J. Hill’s stick side.

Steamboat’s “got some pretty good defensemen that shoot the puck well, and they use them,” said Liberty coach Matt Levine, pleased with how his team (2-17 overall) played in its final game of the season. “Without the playoffs in sight, it would’ve been easy for us to pack it in, so I was proud they showed up and worked hard.”

In the second period, Steamboat set up camp in the Liberty defensive zone, creating shots but failing to find the net as the Liberty defense could do little more than ice the puck.

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In one of the Lancers’ fleeting chances in the Sailors’ zone, Matt Butler made a move through a Steamboat seam, but Ian Anderson stepped in to show that Sailors defensemen didn’t just have goals on their minds.

With five minutes to go in the second period, Billy Taylor slipped a pass through to Cody Fritz, who sleekly lifted a shot above Hill’s shoulder for a 3-0 lead.

Steamboat had only one penalty the entire game, not allowing Liberty any offensive chances and further opening the door in the third period for a full-fledged rout.

Palaniuk and Michael Weston’s outside slap-shot goals book-ended a three-goal third period that also had Tim Rabbitt slip a pass through to a streaking Gus Worden, who buried his shot.

“We need to go out on a game like this where we are moving the puck well,” Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said.

Steamboat finishes the season fifth in the Peak Conference at 8-10 overall, set for what Ruff said will likely be a No. 9 or No. 10 seed in the single-elimination, 16-team playoff bracket, likely matched up against Cheyenne Mountain or Palmer, when the seeds and location of Friday’s first-round game are announced this week.

“We’ll be fine as long as we play with intensity and without selfishness,” Ruff said.