You could say Jim Dingle was late to the game in getting his Steamboat Springs team ready for the 2020 Colorado Prep Hockey League season. Dingle would prefer to say he's getting a jump on the 2021 Colorado High School Activities Association season.
Dingle became the Steamboat Springs coach over the summer, and by the time he gained entry for his team into the CPHL, most of the wheeling and dealing in the making of schedules had been completed. So Dingle's team took a spot in Tier II with a sparse schedule.
In fact, Steamboat Springs will play just its third CPHL game on Friday against CA/Kent (Colorado Academy and Kent Denver) in our Top Game of the Week – a Tier 2 tilt between Wales Conference contenders.
Dingle, who would have preferred to have his team playing in Tier I, nevertheless could not be happier.
"We played Regis (Jesuit's T2 team) last week and won 3-2. They already had played 15 games," Dingle said. "I believe that shows that our developmental program is right on track."
And that track is leading to the CHSAA season, when Steamboat Springs will be competing at the Class 4A level in the new two-class format. Dingle might have gotten a late start on learning about the CPHL and getting to know his team, but he's quite pleased with what he's seen up to this point.
With promising young players such as sophomore forward Andrew Kempers, who scored two goals in the victory over Regis Jesuit T2, and junior goaltender Indiana Kretzschmar, who has turned away 57 of 59 shots on goal in two games, Steamboat Springs appears to have a solid talent base to build upon.
A couple of first-year bantam players provide even more reason for optimism. Dingle said Nico Paoli and Kodiak Kretzschmar, Indiana's younger brother, already have high school talent. Even Eric Strobel, who played high school hockey in Rochester, Minnesota, alongside Dingle before becoming a member of the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 U.S. gold medal-winning hockey team, gave Paoli his seal of approval.
Dingle praised Kodiak Kretzschmar's intelligence and poise and said Paoli is "a great puck-handler, has great speed and already goes top shelf with his backhand. He's got skills a lot of high school juniors haven't yet mastered."
Until they arrive (and keeping them in the Steamboat Springs program is a priority for Dingle), Kempers, Indiana Kretzschmar, defenseman and team captain Walker Ripley and 6-3, 230-pound senior forward Quinn Dorris give the Sailors (1-0-1-0, 1-0-1-0) plenty of talent on the ice.
Dingle said Kempers has the ability to become one of the state's best high school players. He praised the young forward's mental and physical development.
"I think his work ethic is outstanding," Dingle said. "He used to get a lot of penalties, because he's a bigger kid. He's not getting those anymore. His ice awareness has gone up, and that's really been a big factor in his development."
Friday's game against CA/Kent should be a solid test for Dingle's squad. The Sun Devils (5-1-0-0, 3-1-0-0) sit atop the Wales standings and have one of the CPHL's top scorers in Sam Choi, who has 10 goals and eight assists in seven games. Only five others in Tier 1 or Tier 2 have more points than Choi.
For Dingle, the game against CA/Kent represents a reunion of sorts. He coached at Kent during one of the school's most successful eras, leading the team to three CHSAA state championship games and winning the 1994 state championship.