Thursday, October 5, 2017

Idaho Steelheads Following Dallas's Mantra: Speed and Depth

Max French (Credit: Texas Stars)
The Idaho Steelheads hit the ice this weekend for two preseason games against Utah. Some of the players in camp with Idaho will go a full month from the start of hockey related activities in Traverse City to playing their first regular season game next weekend. The same is true for head coach Neil Graham. He coached in Traverse and came to Texas camp last week before kicking off his own camp in Boise earlier this week.

He's extremely excited about the system's overall improvements and his players in Boise as well. "Dallas has done a tremendous job building the depth, adding to their roster and in turn we should see some guys in Idaho. That benefits all three teams."

Over the summer, I spoke with coach Graham and he emphasized wanting to improve speed and depth at the ECHL level. That turned into a mantra across the organization and has been noted by all who have watched Dallas and Texas camps this preseason. "A big part of the identity of this organization all levels is the pace, tempo and speed we want to play at. We want to adjust our practices so that we play with that speed. The only way to execute that in games is to practice that way."

Coaching changes in Dallas have trickled down a little bit to Idaho as some terminology has shifted. Graham got a chance to talk with Ken Hitchcock, the new Dallas Stars head coach, in Traverse City. In the end, the systems are basically the same across all three teams.

Graham recruited a team that hits on the speed and depth points but is also 'harder to play against,' a bit of an unquantifiable quality. "Something important was that we wanted to improve our speed, depth and wanted to be tougher to play against. We'll be grittier, harder on pucks, under sticks, winning battles. We'll also have a speed element that will be more dynamic than the last two years."

Another important element to this year's roster for Idaho is its completeness at the start of the season. Barring injuries in the next week, the Steelheads will have a significantly more 'complete' roster than last year when the team was decimated by injuries in Dallas and Texas that strapped the depth of the squad. Recent assignments such as Max French and Shane Hanna stayed a long time in Texas camp and could be big difference makers at the ECHL level.

"We have a roster in mind, and some things change based on affiliate players. If we don't see someone, it means they've earned a spot at the next level and you tip your hat to those guys. I think we'll see a good chunk of our guys."

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