Steamboat Wranglers learns through struggle in first year in Western States Hockey League
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Wranglers knew the move from Tier III Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League to Tier II Western States Hockey League would be a transition.
The Wranglers, which hold a season record of six wins, 26 losses, one overtime win and one overtime loss, will host a home series against the Dallas Snipers on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
All games at Howelsen Ice Complex
Steamboat Wranglers vs. Dallas Snipers, 7:30 p.m., Friday, Jan. 11
Steamboat Wranglers vs. Dallas Snipers, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 12
Steamboat Wranglers vs Dallas Snipers, 11:30 a.m., Sunday, Jan. 13
“We are coming up on a part of the schedule where I believe we will have a nightly opportunity to play in these games,” Wranglers head coach Ryan Dingle said. “That’s not to say that we didn’t play with those big boys, but they have the depth, and a lot of these guys have been in the league for years and years and years and have been prolific scorers in the league.”
But the Wranglers have had some setbacks — including injuries and suspensions. There will be five starters out in the home series against Dallas, but Dingle has them marked on his calendar to return in two weeks when the Wranglers host the Casper Bobcats (9-18).
“Not saying that the guys in the regular lineup can’t contribute,” Dingle said. “But, they’re not getting enough rest, so we end up having to overplay them, and they aren’t as potent or have as much fire.”
Dingle was sprung into the head coaching job three weeks before practices started and wasn’t afforded the time other coaches had to search through scouting reports. As a head coach, the biggest learning curve has been keeping the morale up and getting his players to the level he wants them to play.
The Wranglers also faced off against the Ogden Mustangs (29-1-1), the top team in the mountain division, and the Utah Outliers (21-11-1-1), the second top team, within the first few weeks of their season, which made it hard to start off strong.
But Dingle felt a sense of accomplishment when the Wranglers attended the Vegas Shootout, a showcase for junior hockey teams to play in front of 130 colleges. After the first game, the Wranglers had nine colleges swarming the team.
“I really, really want to graduate these guys onto the next level,” Dingle said. “And, if I can find a way to do that, older guys to go on to a university, younger guys to go to a higher level of junior hockey, that is most rewarding.”
Overall, the team has improved its hockey intuitive intelligence in the flow and speed of the game, anticipating actions of other teams.
Steamboat Wrangler Sebastian Culver, a veteran on the team, has seen the stark contrast between the two leagues. He’s embraced the challenge, emerging as the third top-scorer on the Wranglers squad.
“The speed is quicker. The teams are all better. Last year was maybe just one good team, but a good 15 teams are all good in this league,” Culver said. “It’s more of a professional league with all the travel, more of a junior hockey atmosphere. Last year, it was more in-state.”
Culver said his confidence has grown in his stick handling, skating and shooting, which has enabled him to adapt to the game at a higher speed. Culver has 10 goals and 17 assists on the season so far. Jack Rosseau and Dalton Eagle Bear have 12 goals each, while Avery Albert has 11.
The upcoming homestretch will be nice for the Wranglers, who have been on the road since November. Dingle said the team’s goal is to finish above the Cheyenne Stampede (3-25-2-2) and the Casper Bobcats (9-18) to be third in the Mountain Division of the WSHL.
“More than anything, we’re ecstatic to be home,” Dingle said. “This is our barn. We want to play here. We want to play in front of and for the community. It’s really fun to be back, and the anticipation is very high.”
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