New league, same expectations for Steamboat Wranglers
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Wranglers head coach Ryan Dingle’s office door keeps swinging open.
Director of sales and marketing Shannon Lukens sits in a chair talking about pictures and new jerseys. Assistant coach Kenny Simmons walks in for instructions on practice drills. Dingle’s phone rings and he answers.
Oct. 5: vs. Utah Outliers, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 6: vs. Utah Outliers, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7: vs. Utah Outliers, 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 19: vs. Wichita Jr. Thunder, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20: vs. Wichita Jr. Thunder, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21: vs. Wichita Jr. Thunder, 11:30 a.m.
Nov. 16: vs. Cheyenne Stampede, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17: vs. Cheyenne Stampede, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 18: vs. Cheyenne Stampede, 11:30 a.m.
Jan. 11: vs. Dallas Snipers, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 12: vs. Dallas Snipers, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 13: vs. Dallas Snipers, 11:30 a.m.
Jan. 25: vs. Casper Coyotes, 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 26: vs. Casper Coyotes, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 8: vs. Casper Coyotes, 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 9: vs. Casper Coyotes, 4 p.m.
March 1: vs. Utah Outliers, 7:30 p.m.
March 2: vs. Utah Outliers, 7:30 p.m.
March 3: vs. Utah Outliers, 11:30 a.m.
March 8: vs. Ogden Mustangs, 7:30 p.m.
March 9: vs. Ogden Mustangs, 7:30 p.m.
March 10: vs. Ogden Mustangs, 11:30 a.m.
Oct. 5: vs. Utah Outliers, 7:30 p.m.
The large, flat-screen TV to his right plays ESPN highlights of NHL hockey on mute.
He told the captains to be ready for pictures by noon, and they are.
Avery Albert, Tyrell Bourk and Richie Kaye are the captains of the Steamboat Wranglers, and each of them are newcomers to the team.
“It’s all a part of a new season,” Albert said. “New opportunity moving on and getting to see new faces, new people in the locker room and getting to experience what it’s like for junior hockey.”
Albert and Bourk both come from the Northern Colorado Eagles, a junior A hockey team in Greeley, which also competes in the Western States Hockey League Mountain Division, the league that the Steamboat Wranglers joined this year.
For the two, it’s just a different town, a different team, but for the Wranglers, it’s a level higher than the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League, where the Wranglers have played for two years. After winning the regular season and making the championship both years in the RMJHL, the Wranglers walk into the WSHL with similar expectations.
“You want to carry it over,” Albert said. “It’s important to show the fans and show the team you’re here to play. We don’t just compete at one level, we compete at all of them, and no matter what, we’re going to win.”
Kaye comes to Steamboat Springs from the Breckenridge Bolts, a team that was forced into dormancy after the RMJHL’s closing. Like the Wranglers as a whole, Kaye has something to prove.
“As we start playing our game and putting pucks in the net, making goals, people will start to notice,” Kaye said.
That was clearly displayed in their preseason opener against Cheyenne Stampede, where the Wranglers fell 11-10 but showed a strong offensive presence.
“I don’t think I’ve seen a team score 10 goals and lose,” Dingle said. “However, the feedback that I got from friends in the stands was that it was a very entertaining game. That’s good reassurance that people had a fun time, but at the end of the day, I want to win some games.”
Dingle recently hung up his own skates for the job coaching in his hometown, and it’s been a transition.
“I knew that this was going to be an interesting time of year for me when I see NHL games going on, European games going on,” Dingle said. “Am I going to have the itch to go back and play and get back on the ice?”
But he doesn’t. He’s come to terms with his retirement and has accepted the challenge that fell into his hands two months ago.
It’s the ice where he feels most comfortable. He can identify the combinations of players or schemes that work best. Sometimes, he’ll take a hands-on approach at practice, taking shots at the goalies.
“We have a fun little game we play on every Thursday that the coaching staff gets out there, and they’ll participate,” Dingle said. “The players love seeing both Kenny and myself out there shooting pucks.”
The players like having a coach fresh out of the professional arena. It adds to his credibility and provides a new perspective.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Bourk said. “He sees a little more of the game from a player’s perspective than a coach that has been coaching for the last 20 years. It’s fun to watch him in practice and see his moves.”
But the administrative side of things has been Dingle’s biggest challenge since accepting the position two months ago.
“It was difficult, it was a lot of scrambling to try to get a full team in place,” Dingle said. “It’s like professional hockey, you can acquire players through trades, through recruitment, through walk-in tryouts, all of the things.”
The Wranglers have acquired nine forwards, eight defensive players and four goalies. Out of those 21 players, six have worn the Steamboat Wranglers jersey before.
Although none of the captains are veterans of the team, Dingle said he chose them based on their resumes, what they’ve done since joining the team and how others on the team perceive them.
Albert, the tallest of the three, he notes, is the most experienced and leads by example. He’s not the most vocal, but he speaks with maturity.
“He has that type of demanding characteristic that just tells everybody to ‘listen to me,'” Dingle said. “That’s somebody I wanted to take the bull by the horns.”
Bourk has a strong work ethic — someone who is first on the ice and the last to leave every day.
Then, there’s Kaye — he hits, fights and scores.
“This is the exciting part,” Dingle said. “The puzzle pieces that I have to fit together whether it be on line combinations or power plays.”
Like a true Wrangler, Dingle adds, “You need have everybody pulling the rope in the same direction.”
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