Steamboat freshman hockey player granted first-ever Salty award
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Ahead of Tuesday’s practice, Steamboat Springs High School freshman Conner Rushton was the first one on the ice.
He skated to the side of the rink where the nets are set, out of the way from the Zamboni that just left the ice. He pushed the net along the ice and put it in its place behind the blue crease. He skated back, then pushed the second net to the other end and put it in its place as well.
This has become a habit for the Sailors defender. He frequently is the last one in the locker room, ensuring that every last piece of tape has been picked up and tossed into the trash.
It’s common culture for the upperclassmen to have the freshmen carry equipment or clean up the bus, but Rushton does it on his own.
“I’ve never seen it on any of my other teams,” said senior Tanner Ripley. “It’s just him. He’s special.”
For those reasons, and many others, Rushton was the recipient of the first-ever Salty award, which goes to the most outstanding underclassman who is committed to exhibiting the SAIL principles: spirit, accountability, integrity and leadership. The name Salty comes from the Steamboat mascot.
“He’s always there to comfort a teammate, gives 100% on the ice, listens to us in practices. He’s always paying attention,” said Steamboat hockey head coach Ernie Thiel. “He’s just been a great representation in what we want in a player and as a person.”
Senior David Thiel said he 100% agreed with the decision, while Ripley said that even as a freshman, Rushton is a natural-born leader.
“He’s always really positive,” David Thiel said. “And he’s a very funny kid in the locker room, and everyone loves him.”
“He doesn’t complain either,” added Ripley.
Rushton is one of three freshmen and seven underclassmen on the Sailors varsity roster. Even though he’s one of the youngest players on the team, Ernie Thiel said he still leads the others.
Ripley said Rushton is vocal on the ice, but Rushton is careful with what he says. He doesn’t want to step on the seniors’ toes. He knows that if they were to say something to a team member, it would carry more weight than if he said the same thing. Instead, he leads by example.
“I feel like I just lead by taking out the trash and doing all that kind of stuff,” Rushton said. “Setting up nets and really just paying attention and focusing and working hard.”
It’s easy to recognize Rushton on the ice. His red hair sticks out between his helmet and the No. 15 on his jersey. If that wasn’t enough, he’ll be the one falling on the ice — on purpose.
“There’s this funny thing that he does. He kind of started it in practice one day. We are doing these two-on-one drills, and all of a sudden, he just lays out and starts swinging his stick and pokes the puck away,” Ripley said. “He’s developed this weird skill to fall on the ice and somehow make a play.”
The move isn’t totally unique. It’s something NHL players will do as a last-ditch effort. During Monday’s last home game, Rushton gracefully fell to the ice and sprawled across his defender’s path on three occasions.
Ripley said no one has told him to knock off the trick yet, since it’s still working. Aside from his acrobatics, Rushton plays solid defense and is a reliable player, even as a freshman.
“He’s developed into one of our best defensemen on the team as a freshman,” David Thiel said. “That’s pretty awesome. I’m excited to see where he goes in his remaining years of high school.”
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