Luke Graham: Steamboat hockey set for big year |

Luke Graham: Steamboat hockey set for big year

Luke Graham
Luke Graham.

— The Steamboat Springs High School hockey team shouldn’t get ahead of itself.

Although winning the King of the Mountain Tournament is quite a statement, it’s easy to forget it’s only the first three games of the year.

The Sailors won the tournament in 2005 and 2006 before sputtering down the stretch.

But there certainly is reason to like what people saw during Friday and Saturday’s games.

Steamboat won, coming from behind to blow a team out and win the final game in the final period. The Sailors showed they’re a cohesive unit. There weren’t many of the individualistic plays that have dotted the past. The team worked as just that – a team.

The top line of Jake Bearss, Cody Fritz and Jon Winkelblech accounted for 12 goals and 13 assists, and they looked as though they’d played together for a couple of years. The three seem to have that “it” factor about them. They know where each other will be before anyone else does.

If they continue playing as they did in the first three games, they could become one of the top lines in the state.

Then, there is the play of junior goaltender Matt Dawes. The numbers – at any level – are mind-blowing. He stopped 51 of 53 shots Friday, pitched a shutout against Battle Mountain on Saturday and played a gutsy game on rubbery legs against Summit in the nightcap. All told, he turned away 101 of the 107 shots he faced.

Simply put, the Sailors have a phenomenal shot at winning any game in which Dawes is in the net for Steamboat.

But there are areas where Steamboat needs to improve. The Sailors took too many penalties in the three games. Although the penalty kill was phenomenal – holding their opponents to 2 of 18 in the tournament – sooner or later, those penalties will catch up with Steamboat. The Sailors also will have a second line to provide some punch to the first line’s dominance.

All that said, there is a lot to like about this Steamboat team. The Sailors seem to have a good blend of experience and don’t-know-any-better youth. While Steamboat got the play you’d expect from veterans such as Bearss, Fritz, Winkelblech and Grant Ehrick, the team also got solid play from inexperienced players such as Jim Whelihan, John Wharton and Brady Bender, among others.

Add in that Steamboat was missing defenseman Eric Bonner the first two games and winger Kaelen Gunderson for most of the tournament, and the groundwork for a successful season and possible playoff run seems plausible.

Although it’s only three games – and that’s the most important thing to remember – the foundation for a big year is here.

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