Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Idaho Steelheads Report: Finding Wins Even With Recalls, Tough Travel

Brock Montgomery (Credit: Loren Orr/Idaho Steelheads)
Thanksgiving mashed potatoes aren't the only thing from Idaho that you'll be having this week as John Mulhern dishes out a serving of Steelheads hockey with this week's Idaho Steelheads Report...

The Idaho Steelheads started a five games in seven day stretch last week, which includes games in four different cities. So far after four of these games (played over five days), the Steelheads will return home on Tuesday for a game against the Las Vegas Wranglers (Independent).

Over the first four games, the Steelheads have gone 2-1-1 with the only regulation loss coming this past Saturday against the Stockton Thunder (Bridgeport) by a score of 3-1. By the end of this article, I’m hoping to convince you that this is a good thing regardless of the result on Tuesday night.

Utah

Last Wednesday, the Utah Grizzlies (Norfolk) came into Idaho for the first time this regular season and played 'Grizzlies hockey'. They tied everything up defensively, were looking for the counter punch and took a couple of silly penalties.

In the first period, Utah's Norm Ezekiel attempted to deliver a hit to Steelhead Mitch Wahl. Wahl would win the battle, and Ezekiel, not liking the result, decided to start throwing punches at Wahl. That earned him two minutes for roughing and two unsportsmanlike conduct. If you have been paying attention, how do the Steelheads return favors of gift power plays at home this year? By burying one in the back of the net. It was none other than Tommy Grant from Mitch Wahl and Anthony Nigro that gave the Steelheads a 1-0 lead. Utah would tie it in the second period and the teams headed into the third tied at one.

In the third, the Grizzlies would get called for too many men on the ice. At first, I thought it was a bit questionable of a call as a Utah player was knocked down heading to the bench. After thinking about it, the officials got the call right. It is the responsibility of the player coming onto the ice to make sure the player coming off of the ice gets to the bench. You can’t jump a guy on when someone is hurt in a corner, you can’t put a guy on when they get knocked down about five yards from the bench door.

This wasn’t the “stupid” penalty in this sequence. The teams were already skating 4- on 4 at the time and the Steelheads were prepared for a 4-3 power play. Grizzlies head coach Tim Branham then decided to continue talking to Referee Chris Pitoscia after he was told on no uncertain terms the conversation was over. That got him a two minute bench minor which then stacked three Grizzlies penalties. It amounted to a lot of power play time for the Steelheads, and Ryan Button would get his third goal of the year and the game winner for a Steelheads 2-1 win. Josh Robinson looked strong in net making 25 saves on 26 shots.

San Francisco

Before Friday’s game in San Francisco to take on the Bulls (Worcester) Josh Robinson was called back up to the Texas Stars forcing Brad Ralph to go with Pat Nagle in net and sign an Emergency Back-up. It would not matter as the Steelheads would take care of business with a 6-0 win. It was close through periods as the Steelheads lead 2-0, but a Justin Mercier shorthanded goal and a Brock Montgomery power play goal put the game out of reach. Nagle made 41 saves in earning the shutout.

Probably feeling the effects of 3 games in 4 nights in 3 cities and a lot of bus rides, the Steelheads offense disappeared on Saturday as Ryan Constant got two goals for the Stockton Thunder. That was enough to defeat the Steelheads 3-1. Mitch Wahl had the only Steelheads goal (even strength), and Pat Nagle was 32 of 34 on the night.

Stockton

Sunday was a different story. After Robinson got called-up, the team made due without a contracted backup goaltender for one night but decided to sign a goaltender before Saturday night’s contest. Brooks Ostergard would get the start on Sunday and played well enough to give the Steelheads a chance. The Steelheads would lose this game in overtime 4-3 after the Steelheads got two goals in 31 seconds (Tommy Grant, Tyler Gron) to take a 3-2 lead 6:52 into the third period and tried to hang on for the win. Again, I think this was a case of just too much hockey: three games in three nights. There was enough there after a rest and lack of travel after Saturday’s game, but not enough to finish it out, especially having to play an extra 5 minutes. Having said that, Stockton didn’t score until there were just 16 seconds left in the extra frame.

Other notes

Here is a list of reasons why you should be happy regardless of Tuesday’s result about 5 games in 7 days:

After Wednesday night’s game, Carl Sneep informed the Steelheads he would be leaving (presumably to retire) and in a corresponding decision the Steelheads suspended him. The suspension is to protect his rights and is the correct business move in case he decides to come back. At the time Sneep was -9 through 13 games, but had started to play a little better as of late. His veteran presence and defensive knowledge will be missed in the locker-room.

The loss of Sneep would have been ok if the Texas Stars didn’t come calling to take away Ryan Button. In 13 games Button has 11 points and was rated a plus 1. He has certainly earned his call-up and wish him all the best, but it doing this, the Stars left the Steelheads with only 5 defenseman.

The Steelheads tried David de Kastrozza on the blue line the past couple of games, but ultimately head Coach Brad Ralph decided that the team needed something more permanent and decided to move forward Tyler Gron to San Francisco for defenseman Damon Kipp. Gron had 3g 1A in 13 games for the team this year. Kipp brings some solid numbers to Idaho. He currently has 4 points (all assists) and has a minus 4 rating on a team that has allowed 54 goals this season.

While one fan favorite was heading out of town the team also received some good news from within the organization as the Texas Stars reassigned goaltender Josh Robinson and Hubert Labrie to the Steelheads. Goaltender Christopher Nilstorp and defenseman Maxime Fortunus have returned to the Stars roster prompting the moves.

Only two games this week as the Las Vegas Wranglers are in Tuesday and Friday.

Until next week…

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