Team speed and tenacity to carry Sailors hockey
The qualities that the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team hopes will mark a successful season are as noticeable as the surface it practices on.
The team’s speed, effort and tenacity – all words players toss around frequently – translate into inches of carved up ice after practices at Howelsen Ice Arena. Nearly two hours worth of high-speed drills, stopping and going and checking each other into the glass, blankets the arena with the same snow found around town.
The Sailors’ team captains – Quinn Cain, Ben Wharton and Jackson Perry – and their second-year coach Brent Tollar are hoping those ice shavings and the effort that is put into creating them are a byproduct of a winning season.
“It’s said all the time that heart beats out talent,” Wharton, a senior, said following Monday’s practice. “But you can see it already. The intensity level is so much higher. Not because of talent necessarily, but people want it more.”
Fellow senior Cain echoes Wharton’s early review of the Sailors, who battled through an up-and-down season a year ago en route to a 7-9-3 record.
Steamboat’s captains are well aware of the city they represent on the ice — the one that doesn’t always send a swarm of kids to tryouts. The athletes who do come out, whatever their age or varsity experience, though, have been carving up that ice over the past few weeks in anticipation of this Friday’s opener at Battle Mountain.
“The thing we usually struggle with is depth just because we’re such a small town,” Cain said. “We have a lot of underclassmen, but the tenacity of the group as a whole is all that really matters.”
The effort and leadership from captains like Cain, Wharton and Perry makes life a little easier on Tollar. The Sailors coach said camaraderie was an issue in past seasons, and conditioning killed his team’s chances at finishing off opponents.
So this season’s practices are played at full speed all the time. Tollar wants his team to feel like it has played one and a half games by the end of practice.
There’s a few water breaks and the occasional chalkboard lesson, but Tollar insists pace of play, depth building and team conditioning are what will make the Sailors the contenders they weren’t last year.
“It’s hard to say until we start playing games — you never know how you’ll do — but there’s just a sense of urgency out here that’s been so much fun as a coaching staff to work with,” Tollar said.
On paper, Steamboat will face its stiffest challenges early, with its first five games on the road. And given the number of high schools fielding hockey teams in the area, traveling frequently turns into overnight trips to places like Denver or Aspen.
But Tollar welcomes those early season tests, and his captains aren’t afraid of them either. Confidence is high, and the team believes the wins will follow.
“It’s going to be fun at the end of the season when we finish well,” Cain said.
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Editor’s note: This story discusses the sensitive topics of domestic violence and abuse.