Ice hockey looks to build on offseason successes
FARMER’S KORNER – The Summit High School ice hockey team doesn’t begin its regular season until Friday, but it’s already off to a good start. “We’re way ahead of where we were last year at this time,” said first-year head coach Colin Smith, who worked as an assistant coach on the team last year. “We had a great preseason and a lot of effort from the community putting this team together.”The team’s successful preseason began this summer, when Smith took the team to Taos, N.M., where it won a Midget A tournament. The momentum picked up recently when the Tigers swept their way through the Aspen Fall Classic, taking down Texas state champion Dallas Midget A in the title game.
That energy bodes well for a team that struggled last year, squeaking into the first round of the playoffs with a 3-8 record in the Foothills League and only four wins all season (4-15 overall), only to be eliminated by Aspen. At the Fall Classic, the Tigers won five games. “Our team is lot more high tempo,” said senior forward Cam Carlson. “The players are more up to speed.” Smith credits much of the team’s new success to a better sense of teamwork among the Tigers. He expects that teamwork to continue developing throughout the season.”Our focus is to play as a team first and foremost – to be on the same page,” he said. “If we concentrate on our systems and believe in our philosophies, then I believe we’ll be successful.” A former coach within the youth programs of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, Smith has high hopes of instilling his young players with a sense of the nuances of the sport, such as forechecking and power plays.
He doesn’t expect them to become replacements players in the NHL’s locked-out arenas, but believes that if he can give them a better understanding of the basics the team will excel.”These kids are already getting a sense of all this, which is good,” he said. “That should make us a good team to start off the season.” Smith has several returning players from last season, including forward Cam Carlson and defenseman Billy Barto.Chase Underbrink, a Kremmling High School junior, is also back as a forward, and has brought his talented classmate, junior John Roger, with him. Then there’s Michael Zajicek, a 6-foot-2 junior exchange student from Slovakia, who has already proven in practices and scrimmages that he has the speed to be a dominant force on the Tigers front line all season.
Sophomore Seth Wickham is also returning as the Tigers’ netminder. Wickham’s performance as a starter last season earned him a spot on the Colorado All-Freshmen Team, essentially naming him the state’s rookie goaltender of the year. “We should have one of the best seasons we’ve ever had,” Wickham said. “We have a really good team and a really good attitude.” The Tigers begin their season this weekend with a tournament in Steamboat Springs, where they will face Aspen, Battle Mountain and Steamboat. Richard Chittick can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 236, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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