Steamboat hockey team is primed for a big year |

Steamboat hockey team is primed for a big year

Steamboat’s Blayne Conroy fights for the puck during Saturday morning’s scrimmage against Doherty.
Matt Stensland

2010-11 Steamboat Springs High School hockey schedule

Dec. 1 vs. Battle Mountain, 6:30 p.m.

Dec. 4 at Summit, 3:15 p.m.

Dec. 10 at Pine Creek, 6 p.m.

Dec. 11 at Mullen, 6:10 p.m.

Dec. 14 vs. Aspen, 5:30 p.m.

Dec. 18 vs. Peak to Peak, 3 p.m.

Jan. 7 vs. Monarch, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 8 vs. Summit, 3 p.m.

Jan. 15 vs. Pueblo County, 6 p.m.

Jan. 17 at Aspen, 3 p.m.

Jan. 21 vs. Kent Denver, 6:30 p.m.

Jan. 22 at Battle Mountain, 5 p.m.

Jan. 28 at Regis, 5:45 p.m.

Jan. 29 vs. Ralston Valley, 6 p.m.

Jan. 31 vs. Fountain Valley, 4 p.m.

Feb. 4 at Columbine, 5 p.m.

Feb. 5 at Dakota Ridge, 6:10 p.m.

Feb. 11 vs. Chatfield, 6:30 p.m.

Feb. 12 at Standley Lake, 5 p.m.

Steamboat’s Blayne Conroy fights for the puck during Saturday morning’s scrimmage against Doherty.
Matt Stensland

— Preseason always brings optimism.

Talk about big seasons and playoff dreams dominates the conversation.

But the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team might make those conversations a reality this winter. Although no one will say it — hockey players are as superstitious as they come — the Sailors have to be considered a contender not just for a conference title, but a state one, as well.

The numbers tell the story.

The team lost just four seniors from last year’s team that advanced to the second round of the playoffs.

A quick jaunt down the roster shows little weakness.

The team returns goaltenders Erik Owen and Joey Haight, top defensemen Patrick Weston and Grant McCannon and its top line of Jake Bearss, Lance Ostrom and John Wharton.

“Our expectations are very high with this group,” Steamboat coach Jeff Ruff said. “We return a lot of key players and added some quality, as well. Our goal is to get into the Final Four. This team is very, very focused on getting past that second round.”

A Saturday scrimmage with Doherty, Palmer and Peak to Peak showed just how dangerous Steamboat could be.

All four lines the Sailors rolled out tallied goals. Owen looked like a top goaltender, and the defense showed its depth. The top line of Bearss, Ostrom and Wharton should be especially dangerous having played together for three years, a rarity in high school hockey.

“I feel like I can pass to open ice position and know they’re going to be there,” Bearss said. “I’m real comfortable with them.”

The schedule sets up well for Steamboat. Of the Sailors’ 19 games, 10 are at home, including traditional powers Battle Mountain, Aspen and Ralston Valley.

If there is a high school sport where each game really does matter, it might be hockey. The regular season dictates the 16-team state bracket.

As Steamboat has learned from previous seasons, a couple of games can prove the difference in earning a top three seed or being seeded in the lower third of the bracket.

“Everybody has their eye on the state championship,” Weston said, “but it starts with Game 1.”

As with every season, the biggest key for Steamboat will be to remain healthy. Although they have as deep a team as the Sailors have had in the past five years, injuries always play a part.

Last year, Steamboat lost several players to injury and had to reshuffle its roster for the playoffs.

Ruff knows if his team can stay healthy, it can make a deep playoff run.

He admitted that a first-round exit in the playoffs would be a disappointment. But judging from the roster and Saturday’s scrimmage, the Sailors shouldn’t limit their expectations to just the first round.

“We’re not teaching a new commitment level or expectation level,” Ruff said. “We’re building on what we did last year. It’s a fun group. They like each other. It’s a group that’s been around each other for a long time.”

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