Steamboat hockey full of family connections |

Steamboat hockey full of family connections

Luke Graham

Steamboat Springs High School hockey players Cody Fritz, Eric Bonner and Matt Dawes are continuing the legacy of Steamboat hockey. All three had brothers play in the program.

— Steamboat Springs High School senior Eric Bonner smirks a little when he thinks about what it was like growing up in his house full of defensemen.

Eric, the youngest of three boys, usually became the target for hip checks, body checks, and other roughhousing worthy of 2-minute minors, even, 5-minute major penalties on the ice.

Before Eric got into high school, his older brothers, Jace and Brad, had established a legacy for Steamboat Springs hockey.

Eric said he remembers going to the games as a middle school student and itching to put on a Steamboat Springs High School uniform.

“It was kind of cool to go watch their games,” Eric said. “It was cool to see a high level of playing.”

But Eric is just one player in a long line of Sailors hockey players who have followed in family footsteps.

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Starting junior goalie Matt Dawes sat behind his brother, Jeff, the past two years. Senior Cody Fritz played with his brother, Cam, last year, and sophomore Patrick Weston learned from older brother Michael.

“What it does for us most importantly is, they understand the expectations when they come in and try out for the team,” Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. “There are expectations. What it does for us is, they want to play for us so badly, they understand how hard they have to work. They commit to the program without as much convincing.”

Matt and Jeff Dawes might be the most interesting case.

Jeff – a 2008 graduate – started in net most of the season two years ago and split time with Matt last year.

Matt said it wasn’t by default that the two ended up in goal.

“It started way back, like six or seven years ago,” Matt said. “He was playing goalie. I was the younger brother, and with the older brother thing, I wanted to be just like him, so I started playing goalie.”

While there was a little competition between the Dawes’ – Matt makes sure Jeff knows he had more wins last year – there also was camaraderie that Matt said he’ll miss this year.

When Matt was in net, he’d take every chance he could to go over and talk to Jeff.

“I’ll miss his advice,” Matt said. “He played more high school than me, so I’d always ask him, ‘What did you think about that save or that goal that went in?’ It was a brotherly connection.”

The connections make Steamboat a close-knit squad, Ruff said. It’s especially important, he said, for a sport that spends a good portion of its time on the road.

“Were not like the football team, that has 40 kids, or lacrosse, that has three full teams,” Ruff said. “We have smaller numbers and travel a lot more, so we do try to create a family atmosphere. If we don’t create that team unity, then we don’t have a very good chance of competing.”

But although Fritz, Bonner and Dawes soon will end their careers, the legacy of family will continue.

Patrick is going to wear his brother’s No. 11 this year, and he said he’s looking forward to playing in a couple of years with his little brother, who will be a freshman when Patrick’s a senior.

“I guess it’s a legacy. I don’t know,” Patrick said. “I’m wearing (Michael’s) number this year. I guess I’ll see if I can get that going a little bit.”