|Josh Robinson (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)|
About a week ago in this very spot, I just about wrote off the Idaho Steelheads chances of winning not only the Mountain Division, but also the Western Conference. While I’m still not ready to give them great odds, after sweeping the Alaska Aces (Independent) this past week and taking 6 points, (Alaska did get 1 courtesy of an OTL) I’m willing to concede that there is a chance, albeit a small one, that the Steelheads can pull off what have to be considered an upset and win a division or a conference.
In what best can be described as playoff hockey in a playoff atmosphere, the Steelheads would have to battle hard for 60 minutes for 3 straight nights to come away with victories. Even more impressive is that they did it while getting significantly outshot in every game. When the dust settled, the “Good Guys” always were able to skate away victorious.
Wednesday March 13 @ Alaska Aces 4-3 OTW
In one of the most absurd games from a Steelheads fan perspective you can ever get, the Steelheads came away with a 4-3 victory while garnering only 16 shots which include a stretch of 18:50 between the first and second period where they did not register even a single shot.
However, even after you take all of that into consideration, the Steelheads would go into the 3rd period tied with the Alaska Aces at 2 goals a piece. Ian Watters and Ben Ondrus provided both goals for the Steelheads and they were 2 for 3 in terms of shots in the first period.
Alaska’s Evan Trupp made it 2-1 Idaho after one and Bobby Hughes tied the game at 2 a little past the halfway mark of the 2nd period. In the third period, the Steelheads took advantage of carry over power play time as again Ian Watters would get the Steelheads on the board and give them a 3-2 lead. Alaska took a penalty at the 2:27 mark of the period and what looked to be a great opportunity to stretch the lead, came back to haunt the Steelheads as Nick Mazzolini scored short-handed to tie the game at 3.
The Steelheads would out-shoot the Aces 8-6 in the 3rd, but the Aces certainly had the better of the chances, hitting a post and a crossbar during the frame. It wouldn’t take long to decide the game in overtime as Austin Smith would come out of the penalty box and lead a 2 on 1 rush with Chase Schaber. Smith was able to find Schaber in stride, and Chase made no mistake in burying the one-timer to give the Steelheads the emotional win. The Steelheads score 4 goals on 16 shots while goaltender Josh Robinson, 30 of the 33 shots he faced to get the win.
Friday March 15 @ Alaska Aces 4-3 W
Josh Robinson got the start again on Friday. His play certainly warranted another start, however Tyler Beskorowany was called up to the Texas Stars to take away any decision head coach Brad Ralph may have had to make.
Once again the Steelheads would jump out to an early lead as Austin Smith put the Steelheads on the board first. The Alaska Aces would answer right back however just 1:10 later to tie the game at 1. Tyler Gron would give the Steelheads a 2-1 lead heading into the break with his 17th goal of the year. Justin Taylor would add to his great play of the last two weeks getting his 9th of the season early in the second for a 3-1 Steelheads lead. Once again, the Aces had the answer as they would get two more goals including one on the power play to send the game into the third tied at 3 goals apiece.
Jace Coyle would give the Steelheads the 4-3 lead when he found the back of the net just 4:31 into the final period. The Aces would once again fire everything they had at the Robinson, but he kept all 11 shots out of the net en route to the victory. Robinson stopped 36 of 39 shots, while helping to hold the Aces to 1 of 5 on the power play. The Steelheads only had 1 power play the entire game and the victory also snapped Alaska’s 8 game point streak.
Saturday March 16 @ Alaska Aces 2-0 W
The top two teams in the Mountain Division met for the 3rd time in 4 nights and once again it was the Steelheads who grinded their way to a victory. In a fairly clean game, (only 3 penalties called all night) this game would follow the course of the previous 2 in that the Steelheads once again were pinned in their own end for extended periods of time, and despite being out-shot, were able to find the back of the net enough times for the win.
After a scoreless first period, the two teams played the second as if they knew one goal might be enough. Just when it looked like perhaps the Steelheads and Aces would head to the 3rd tied at 0-0, Justin Taylor tipped home a David de Kastrozza shot with just 2:25 left in the second for the 1-0 Steelheads lead. In the 3rd Austin Smith would get his team leading 26th goal of the year for the insurance marker and with another stellar performance in net from Josh Robinson (36 of 36 for 4th SO) the Steelheads got out of Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska with 6 points and a glimmer of hope that they can still win the Mountain Division and/or the Western Conference
The Steelheads continue to play division leaders as the Pacific Division winning Ontario Reign (Manchester Monarchs) pay a visit to Century Link Arena in Boise for another 3 games in 4 night set. Ontario has locked up the 2nd spot in the Western Conference and both teams need to get maximum points in order to keep the possibility of higher seeding in the Kelly Cup Playoffs alive. Just as it was with Alaska, expect these games to have a close checking, playoff feel to them as both gear up for the possibility of a deep playoff run.
- Josh Robinson: Coming off a 3-0-0 week where he allowed only 2 GAA over those 3 games including earning his 4th shutout of the season and 4th in his last 13 games and has not lost a game in regulation in his last 11. The Steelheads have earned a point in all but 2 of his 16 starts since Feb 1. He’ll continue to carry the load as long as Tyler Beskorowany remains up in Texas on recall.
- Austin Smith: After being held without a point in a loss to Gwinnett on March 9th, Austin has regained his point per game rate as he score 2 goals and earner 2 assists over the last 3 games against the Aces. Since his return at the end of February he has 7 goals and 8 assists and even more importantly is plus 6 during the 10 game span. He also leads the league in rookie goals scored with 26. He has done this over 33 games played. Second place is 25 goals scored, but over 66 games played.
- John Ryder: His return to the lineup brought some much needed grit to the blue line without Matt Case and Jace Coyle. His impact was immediately felt on Wednesday as he tallied 1 goal and 1 assist to go along with his physical presence that had the Alaska forwards looking for contact instead of looking to make a play. Having not seen action for over 2 months and contributing 4 points over the 3 games, I would call this a successful return to the lineup.
- Jace Coyle: After spending just about a month in Texas, Jace returned this past Friday and immediately made an impact with a game winning goal to go along with an assist in Friday night’s game. As Jace readjusts back into the Steelheads line-up, I look for him to be a driving force on the blue line for the Steelheads as they take on the Reign this week.
Look for a playoff update coming soon. Until next time…