Sailors back on the ice

Melinda Mawdsley

— A perfect start is great, but the Steamboat Springs hockey team wants more than five wins this season.

Instead of using the extended holiday break to rest, the Sailors (5-0 overall) have been skating whenever they can get ice time. This time of year, with Howelsen Ice Arena booked for public skates and holiday ice shows, Steamboat’s players made the 80-minute round-trip drive to Craig’s rink to stay in shape.

The elevated interest in conditioning is one example of Steamboat’s improved work ethic — a work ethic the Sailors say they hope will carry them far in the 2005-06 season.

The ’06 portion of the season begins at 6:30 p.m. Wed–nesday with a game against rival Battle Mountain at Howelsen Ice Arena.

“I’d really like to beat them,” defenseman Jace Bonner said.

Steamboat has not beaten the Vail-area school since hockey became a high school sport four seasons ago. Steamboat had not beaten Aspen either, but the Sailors outskated the Skiers on their way to a 3-1 win Dec. 2.

Jake Stanford said a new-look Steamboat squad, comfortable and confident in coach Dave Strang’s system, probably surprised Aspen.

“When we get down one or two goals, we aren’t finished,” he said. “When we get down, 20 seconds later, we score.”

Steamboat assistant Jeff Ruff is a statistics guy, and he said the Sailors have only trailed for 1 minute, 30 seconds of a total 225 minutes in five wins this season. That was an abbreviated moment in a game against Peak to Peak. Steamboat went on to win, 8-4.

Bonner said Steamboat’s improved passing is one of the biggest reasons the Sailors are off to a great start, but it’s difficult to pinpoint one reason for their early-season success.

Steamboat is fast on the ice. It is winning a staggering 73 percent of its face-offs and has outscored the opposition 29-7.

“We are getting consistent scoring from all three lines,” Ruff said. “That will be hard for opposing coaches to defend against.”

Defensively, the Sailors are making few mistakes and even scoring goals. Bonner has a plus-15 ratio on the ice; meaning when Bonner is on the ice, Steamboat has scored 15 more goals than it has given up. Defenseman Tim Ascher has a plus-12 ratio.

“Everyone’s doing well,” Bonner said.

Steamboat’s defense has had to introduce several new players into the rotation, but it hasn’t affected its production. Bonner and Ascher are joined by Jake Dombrowski, Grant Ehrick, Alec Idoni, Matt Lettunich, Bjorn Lickteig and Michael Rabbitt on defense. Goalies Jeff Dawes and Elliot Girard have been great in net, as well.

Steamboat will have four consecutive homes games, which is a welcome break from the long road trips it had to start the season. After Wednesday’s game against Battle Mountain, the Sailors will host Air Academy at 6:30 p.m. Friday and Doherty at 1:15 p.m. Saturday. Steamboat will host Aspen or Battle Mountain again Jan. 10. The opponent is yet to be determined.

Battle Mountain and Air Academy played in last year’s state hockey championships.

— To reach Melinda Mawdsley, call 871-4208 or e-mail

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