Fresh approach pays off on the ice for Sailors hockey
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Coach Yancey Rushton would love to watch the Steamboat Springs High School varsity hockey team skate to a winning record for the first time in several seasons, but for him, success isn’t measured in wins.
“The key to every successful team I’ve ever been on has been the kids, first of all, have to be happy and having fun,” Rushton said. “So my first objective was to make it fun.
“Secondly, to preach to them that if you don’t have hard work, you don’t believe in each other, and you start tearing each other apart, you’re never going to win, and it’s never going to work.”
The Sailors’ last winning hockey season came in winter 2018 when the team finished the regular season 14-6-1 overall and 12-3-1 to finish second in the Pinnacle league. It was the second time in two years that Steamboat advanced to the quarterfinals.
But since then, the team has struggled, and last season the team was 2-15-1 overall and 1-8-1 in league play. So when Rushton stepped in at the start of the season he knew he was going to have to inspire his players with their love of the game.
“It’s been a big change,” Calvin Zuschlag said of his new coach. “I think the entire team chemistry has helped us come together super well. It makes this team super strong, and we all love Yancey as a coach, and as a person.”
Rushton knew it was going to take some time, but he said the players bought into what he was saying. In the past month, the Sailors’ hard work on the ice has started to pay off with victories.
After starting 0-3, the team has won three of its last four games and is exited to take on the 4A mountain league’s top team this weekend when Crested Butte comes to town for a 6:15 p.m. game Friday — it’s senior night — and a 2 p.m. game Saturday. The Sailors are coming off a 4-2 win over Battle Mountain and a 4-3 win over Aspen.
Rushton said he feels it’s the team chemistry and hard work why the Sailors have won three of the past four games. The team seems to be picking up more momentum with just six games remaining.
“Even if we’re not winning on the ice, we’re making really good friendships,” senior Aidan Story said. “I feel like that’s just been the biggest thing that’s kept me around, and I just love this sport.”
Three other seniors — Coleman Bohmer, Ryan Hoffman and Quinn Dorris — join Story and Zuschlag on this year’s team.
Bohmer said the season, as well as winning and losing, has taken on new meaning because of COVID-19, with the next game not guaranteed.
“I play every game like it’s my last,” Bohmer said. “We’ve had a lot of COVID scares throughout the year, so at any point in time, we can get shut down, so I’ve got to have that mentality, and I’m just having more fun.”
The team’s newfound chemistry is just what the coach was hoping for at the start of the season and is thrilled that it has paid off with a new sense of confidence that was on display as Steamboat prepared to take on Crested Butte.
“They are definitely a high-scoring team,” Hoffman said. “But if we go out there and work hard, play our game and just be smart about it I think we can compete. I’m looking forward to it, and it should be a lot of fun.”
That enthusiasm is contagious, especially after Rushton started having the varsity and junior varsity teams practice on the same sheet of ice at the same time.
“It’s more intense in practices playing with seniors and varsity players,” sophomore Kellen Gromley said. “This is my first year on the high school team, but it’s a lot more intense than it was last year when I was on the Bantam team.”
Rushton likes to include the junior varsity players like Gormley, who is a JV captain, and his teammate Shane Savlox. The coach thinks giving those players a taste of what it’s like, at every practice, will make the team better down the road, and reinforce his belief that hard work is the key.
“I told the players that hard work, and team chemistry are the focus this year,” Rushton said. “The only things that are going to make a difference is if we believe in each other, work hard and have fun.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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The Hayden Valley High School wrestling team always produces strong athletes who make it far into the season, but the team is usually on the smaller side.