Moffat County players contribute to Steamboat hockey squad
Steamboat Springs — In just about every sense, Steamboat Springs and Moffat County have as natural a rivalry as you’ll get.
The 45 miles that separate the two schools on U.S. Highway 40 make the rivalry one of the best this side of Interstate 70.
But occasionally, that rivalry gets blurred. Bulldogs become Sailors. Sailors become Bulldogs. For Steamboat Springs High School hockey coach Jeff Ruff, the blurring of that rivalry may help his team reach heights it never has seen.
Three Craig players — CJ and Jarret Walt and Michael Samuelson — have made the commute this season to help add size and depth to a 5-1 Steamboat team that is atop the Foothills Conference.
“In mountain towns, whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or soccer, it’s the depth that matters,” Ruff said. “If we can bring some kids in from the surrounding towns to help us with our depth, it just makes us a better team. This summer, those guys were coming over once a week to skate. We said, ‘Let’s try and make it work.’
“They’re big kids, they’re nice kids, and they’re highly coachable. The guys in our locker room like them.”
For the three Craig players, changing from Bulldogs blue to Sailors red hasn’t been a big issue.
The three had played in Steamboat with or against most of their current teammates.
“We don’t care what others say. We really don’t,” said Jarret Walt, a sophomore who plays defense and can fill in as a forward. “We don’t play each other in hockey. There’s no real big rivalry.”
To maintain some allegiance to Moffat County, the three still continue to play on the Craig Midget team.
But for now, the focus remains on the Steamboat season.
The three come to town at least twice a week for practice, and more if there are games. To do this, each misses the last two periods of class.
Although it can make for extra work in and out of the classroom, each said he’s happy about the decision.
So is Ruff, who had been concerned about a lack of depth — especially on the defensive end.
All three Craig athletes have played and contributed in all six games. Jarret Walt has an assist, Samuelson has a goal and an assist and CJ Walt has two assists, while helping anchor Steamboat’s power play unit.
The three are also a physical presence in the lineup, which Steamboat desperately has needed.
“We’ve all played hockey over here at younger ages,” CJ Walt said. “I have some experience because I’m a senior, but we all try to help out any way we can.”
CJ Walt has been especially impressive, pairing with Steamboat sophomore Christian Ramirez on defense to give the Sailors one of their top two defensive pairings.
In the final game of the pre-holiday schedule, a 6-2 win against Peak to Peak, CJ Walt and Ramirez helped initiate two of three Steamboat power play goals.
Although the two battled each other in fall on the football field, the performance on the ice suggests they work together well as teammates.
But now, with the early part of the schedule finished and the most important games remaining, the three Craig transplants certainly will be asked to help a talented Steamboat team advance to the Final Four.
“These guys have stepped right in,” Ruff said. “Whereas taking a freshman, where it may take a while to get going and get up to speed, these guys have stepped in and are contributing. We think it’s been a real positive all the way around.”