Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Idaho Steelheads Report: End of the Line

(Credit: Allan Picard/Idaho Steelheads)
John Mulhern recaps the final game of the Steelheads playoff run...

Just like that everything came to a screeching halt. Ryan Hayes had just scored his fifth goal of the postseason at the 17:12 mark of the third period to extend Utah’s lead out to 3-0, and any realistic chance of a comeback went away with that shot.

Igor Bobkov once again made save after save and got some help from the posts in turning aside all 41 shots directed towards him as the Utah Grizzlies defeated the Idaho Steelheads 3-0 to take the first round playoff series by a count of 4-2.

First and foremost, you have to tip your hat to the Grizzlies. When a team is held to as few chances as they had over the course of the six games and find ways to capitalize on a bunch of them, they are doing something right. Make no mistake about it though, outside of maybe Game 2 of this series, the Idaho Steelheads had more chances and better chances. They just lacked a bit of finish, and they had to contend with Igor Bobkov.

The thought coming into the series was that Olivier Roy and Bobkov both had the potential to steal a game or two each. I don’t think anyone saw either one stealing the entire series, which is what ultimately happened here.

It does bear some repeating however, that Idaho didn’t do themselves a bunch of favors in the defensive zone for the better part of this series. At times it was forwards not coming all the way back, other times it was a very aggressive Utah fore-check causing a bad turnover into a high percentage scoring area which would end up in the back of Idaho’s net. Idaho didn’t lack chances in this series. I can think of six direct hits on posts or crossbars over the final three games of the series and a handful of saves that Bobkov made where he literally didn’t see the puck.

Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against you and is playing a weird joke just to see if you can continue to get up off the mat and keep driving forward. Two seasons ago Olivier Roy decided that Idaho would not be able to go to the Kelly Cup Finals. Last season Roy was a part of the Aces team which eliminated the Steelheads, and this year Igor Bobkov, easily a top 3 goaltender in the ECHL this year, decided that Idaho needed to go home early. I’m not one to think that there aren’t going to be challenges getting to a championship, but come on, can’t a team catch a bit of a break once in a while?

The Steelheads power play didn’t help them in this series as they were only able to muster one goal with the man advantage. The penalty kill served them well as Utah only ended up with three power play goals. So special teams, one could argue, was a wash in the series. (I know it’s a two goal difference, but it wasn’t like one team ran ahead and hid because of power play goals).

I’m finding this very therapeutic at the moment.

Now that we got that out of the way, Idaho still had a great regular season and while that is hard to put into perspective at the moment, it can’t be thrown out with the bath water as part of an unsuccessful season just because it didn’t end with a Kelly Cup.

Idaho’s 48 wins ties the most in ECHL history, their 102 points was only the second time they hit that mark in the ECHL history. Add in a Pacific Division Championship and that’s not a bad year. There were some individual accomplishments as well. Wade MacCleod was second in league scoring this season and was named to the All-ECHL First Team. Jason Bast was named to the ECHL All-Rookie Team. Plus countless mentions in the weekly and monthly player wards. The entire team had no players that were worse than -5 when it came to plus/minus for the regular season. That at any level is outstanding.

I’m sure I am missing a whole other host of accomplishments for this team for the 2014-15 ECHL season, but when all is said and done, I think this group of players will be remembered as a close knit team, that truly cared about each other right up until the final horn. They never quit, they never mailed it in, and they always continued to fight.

All season long the guys in the room have talked about this being a special group and that they thought they could do something special this season. I don’t know if any of them read this, but if so, you guys did do something special. You brought along, on average, over 4,000 fans per home game on an incredible ride, whether it was putting up 5 goals in a game, or having to pull a win out in overtime. From some (although not many) frustrating losses to exhilarating victories. Whether it was a postgame autograph session, or just taking the time to chat with a couple of fans after the game. This group of guys should be remembered as a fun relaxed group that knew that when the puck dropped it was time to get serious and give 100 percent; and they always did.

The business of minor league sports tells us that we won’t ever see this group of guys skate together again, but man, I wish there was a way to get one more season out of that group in the locker room.

Congratulations to Brad Ralph, Neil Graham and everyone else in the Steelheads organization for a great regular season and thank you for allowing me to be a part of the journey. I’m already looking forward to next season and I can’t wait to see what is in store for the 2015-16 edition of the Idaho Steelheads. The ECHL has already released the schedule and for Idaho, the next season starts on October 16, 2015 with a visit from Rapid City.

Until next season...

John Mulhern is the arena emcee for CenturyLink Arena, home of the Idaho Steelheads, and does on-air work for the Steelheads broadcast in addition to his own Two Sports Nuts podcast. You can also follow John on Twitter @mulhern4.

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