|Charlie Dodero (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
So this is how things end. After the best home game effort of the series from the Idaho Steelheads, they still couldn’t catch a break as the Alaska Aces scored a goal just 29 seconds into the third period to give the Aces a 2-1 Game 5 victory and the 4-1 series victory.
It was a night of redemption for Idaho on Thursday. After falling flat defensively on Wednesday, the Idaho Steelheads made the adjustments and were able to hold the Aces to only 19 shots through two periods and 32 for the game. The quality of shots was lower than the previous night, and Josh Robinson, who got the start in net, was refocused and the confident goaltender that we observed back in the first round and game one of this series.
But all of that would be undone in the blink of any eye. Alaska had some carryover power play time to start the third. After some fancy passing around the Steelheads zone, Brendan Connolly threw the puck out in front of the net. Russ Sinkewich, with an Aces player behind him, had no choice but to try to knock the pass down. In what seems to be almost the “perfect” conclusion to the Steelheads season, another unfortunate bounce went into the Steelheads net, and proved to be the game winning goal.
The result was disappointing but there was so much promise at the outset of the game. It’s always a question of how a team will react with their back against the wall, and the Steelheads came out in full force with an outstanding first period. Also the addition of Ryan Button to the lineup for the first time in over a month seemed to provide a bit of a lift up and down the bench.
They applied pressure, created turnovers, and had some great chances. Gerald Coleman, back in net for the Aces, came up with all the saves necessary in the period. The Aces outshot the Steelheads in the first 10-6 but couldn’t match the scoring chances the Steelheads had in the period.
The score remained 0-0 after the first period, but at the time you felt confident that on this night, the Steelheads were not going to go down without a fight. In fact Alaska had scored 16 of the 31 playoff goals in the first period, so that was the first big test the Steelheads passed in this game.
The second test of the game was the second period. Over the past season the second period had been the worse period statistically for Idaho. Not last night. In the period, the Steelheads outshot the Aces 15-9 and got on the board first.
Brett Robinson would give Idaho the lead just 2:20 into the second period. The play was started on a great pinch at the right point by Charlie Dodero who was able to force the puck down the right wing wall to William Rapuzzi. After turning towards the middle, Rapuzzi skated down the wall and was able to fire a pinpoint pass right to Robinson who had the whole net staring at him, and he made no mistake in firing it into the net for the 1-0 lead.
Alaska tied the game up at one before the halfway mark of the game when after they dumped the puck in behind the Steelheads net, the Aces would win the battle for the puck and after a scramble in front of the net Alex Belzile was able to tap home a rebound for his second of the playoffs to make it 1-1. In addition to tying the game up, it also undid all the hard work and effort the Steelheads had put into the first half of the game.
After two periods, the game was all tied up a one goal apiece.
As mentioned, Alaska was able to take the lead 2-1 early into the third period, and after a few minutes of getting themselves settled back into the game, the Steelheads started to press forward again. Shift after shift, Idaho continued to push forward to try and create opportunities. Alaska continued what they have done for the entire series, block shots, get in passing lanes, and gain the redline and dump the puck in forcing the Steelheads to regroup. With Josh Robinson out for the extra skater, Idaho had two or three great chances from in close, but Coleman made all the saves as Alaska would defeat the Steelheads 2-1 to advance to the Western Conference Finals and put an end to the Steelheads season.
It’s always hard when any season ends, but especially a season at the minor league level. There is so much turnover from one year to the next just due to the nature of the beast. Not only with the one year contract nature of the ECHL, but also with some expiring AHL/NHL contracts, the questions now begin. Where will a guy like Ryan Button end up? Did Gaelan Patterson play his way into an AHL camp? What about the young guys like Eamonn McDermott and Scott Czarnowczan? Will they come back for their first full professional season? Will they get an AHL look? So many questions and less than 24 hours after the season ended they are all premature, but after 72 games plus playoffs all the players that donned a Steelheads sweater this year made their impact on the Steelheads and this ECHL season.
Until next year...