Sailors hockey looking to continue growth from last year into 2022 |

Sailors hockey looking to continue growth from last year into 2022

Steamboat Springs high School athlete Jeffrey Hubler takes the puck off a faceoff win by teammate Andrew Kempers during a game against Glenwood Springs last year at Howelsen Ice Arena.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Ahead of the 2021 season, the Steamboat Springs High School hockey team had a new coach and a new culture. The team didn’t have a full season to see how those changes affected their play. The Sailors went 3-6, with all but one loss coming by three goals or less.

Steamboat’s greatest accomplishment last year was defeating Battle Mountain 3-2. The Sailors were one of two teams to beat the Huskies, who went on to win the 4A state championship.

After losing a small group of seniors, that same team is back under the same coaching staff and looking to make waves. The 2021-22 season starts Saturday at Battle Mountain, which could be one of the most exciting games of the year as the Sailors look to defeat the defending state champions.

“The coach came up to me afterwards and said, ‘Thank you, you did us a big favor by beating us,” because it got them prepared,’” said Sailors head coach Yancey Rushton. “We outhustled them; we just worked harder. Just like anything in life, it’s the harder you work that really is whether or not you succeed. You have the knowledge, but that takes you only so far. You have to have the will and desire.”

Steamboat has that will and the desire, but maybe not quite the conditioning needed to win Saturday’s game. The boys are still getting their feet under them after a few weeks off, but with the culture shift still in full swing, they know they are capable of beating the best.

“I would say the buy-in from the team is better than years passed,” said senior Trey Haggarty. “Everyone is committed to their job and what they have to do.”

Junior Andrew Kempers said the energy on the bench, on the ice and really everywhere is much higher compared to prior seasons.

“I think it’s all due to the culture from Yancey,” said senior Walker Ripley. “He’s just implemented a new culture with a really tight-knit group of guys. If we get consistent play out of everybody, we’ll have no problem reaching our goal.”

The goal is a state championship, which still might be a stretch, but not nearly to the same extent as the past few years. If all goes well, the Sailors could be a strong team in the region. The confidence level is high after a very successful fall season.

Glenwood Springs' Colter Strautman and Steamboat Springs’ Cade Baier dive toward the puck during a game last year at Howelsen Ice Arena.
Shelby Reardon/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Steamboat moved up to the higher Tier I level during fall play. The team expected to have a tough time in the new division, but Rushton said the team went 5-5. At the 4A level in the winter, the lowest of the two, Steamboat expects to do well.

“I think they have bought into the discipline and the hard work. The guys skate really hard,” Rushton said. “We have a really strong senior class, that helps. Then we have 18 juniors. They’ve bought into the ‘will beats skill’ and ‘heart beats talent’ type of message. They understand. We didn’t get blown out by anybody in the fall, so I think we’ll be competitive.”

The varsity team is mostly upperclassmen with four freshmen and sophomores. The junior varsity team also has more than 20 skaters, allowing varsity players to be solely varsity players, which should help a lot over the course of the season.

The varsity squad is led by a talented group of seniors and Kempers, a junior, who is expected to be a top scorer. Unlike last year, the team has many people who can score consistently, rather than relying on one or two forwards.

On defense, Rushton believes he has some of the best in the state in Haggarty and Ripley.

“Everyone knows each other really well on the team,” said senior Max Kenney. “We’re working really well together this year.”

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