|(Credit: Idaho Steelheads)|
The Idaho Steelheads just completed a three-game series against the Utah Grizzlies in which the Grizzlies were able to take two out of the three games. The meaning of these three games in the overall grand scheme of the playoffs meant more for Utah trying to get into a playoff position versus Idaho, which currently has a nine point lead over Utah in 4th place and an 11 point lead over 5th place Alaska Aces.
As far as the top of the standings go, Idaho trails the first place Colorado Eagles by six points, and the second place Ontario Reign by three points, but again the Steelheads hold two games in hand on both
Of course at this point I have buried the lead. This past week the Idaho Steelheads were assigned Dallas prospect and Texas backup goaltender Jack Campbell. It is assumed that the assignment will be no longer than a couple of weeks (up to nine games played) before he gets recalled to Texas after having worked off some rust down in the ECHL.
I was given the charge this past weekend to get a good look at the 6’ 3” 195 lb. prospect and give a review of his performance over the two home games played this past weekend.
Friday February 13: Utah Grizzlies win 3-2
This was the first game that Idaho played in over a week, and there was a bit of evidence of that during the game. The entire team was just a bit loose with regards to their systems, and it ended up forcing Campbell to make a few extra saves, as well as force him to do some scrambling around his net. When all was said and done, Campbell made 24 save on 27 shots. Despite getting tagged with the loss, Campbell played well. In the game, Idaho jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of two power play goals, but just as quickly as the power play gave the power play took away.
Both of the goals that Utah scored to tie the game up came on shorthanded breakaways. There was an apparent holding call missed on the first goal and the second one was a breakaway from the penalty box as the player came out behind the Steelheads for the goal. The game-winning goal was a product of right place right time for Utah as the Steelheads broke up the initial rush, but the bouncing puck went right to a Grizzlies stick and a quick release through traffic later, Campbell had no chance to make the save.
I think if Campbell had another game or two under his belt, maybe he comes up with a save on one of the breakaway goals, but as Patrick Cullity told me postgame, there were team breakdowns that led to the Utah goals, and shouldn’t be pinned on any individual. I think if you add in the fact that the team had not played for over a week and Campbell hadn’t played meaningful minutes in what must seem like forever, it wasn’t a bad first outing.
Saturday, February 14: Idaho Steelheads win 4-1
Jack Campbell earned his first ECHL win in his second start and earned the 3rd star of the night for his efforts. Campbell ended the night making 22 saves on 23 shots including a clean breakaway in the second period with the game tied at one. Gaelan Patterson and Colton Beck took care of the game winners and insurance goals to help earn the win for Idaho.
Campbell played as well on Saturday as he did on Friday. The big difference was the team in front of him. Forwards were back-checking harder on Saturday. The defensemen were doing a better job of clearing the crease of players and rebounds. The chances that Utah got were of lesser quality. The lone goal came off a clean face-off win in the offensive zone and a shot from the point that found its way through about five players and may have been deflected on the way in.
Campbell looked calm and collected the entire night, never seemed out of control and if there was any rust leftover from the time off, it was entirely gone by the end of the first period on Saturday.
Monday, February 16: Idaho falls 2-0 in early President's Day game
The Steelheads did travel down to Utah for the third game of the set and Idaho did lose the game 2-0. Didn’t get to see the game, did listen to Will Hoenike on the call and at least one of the goals allowed was a total defensive breakdown that left Campbell out to dry. Of course when a team doesn’t score any goals, it’s awfully hard to win.
So here’s the conclusion from the weekend. First, the Idaho Steelheads are fine even after losing two out of three. They are still solidly in a playoff position and they are starting to get back into the everyday grind of hockey. Nobody on the team will use the layoff as an excuse, but when you don’t have a game for nine days, it affects your body and not always in a great way. But with the grind of the schedule picking back up, I expect the team will be fine going forward.
As for Jack Campbell, I think there are still some things that could be better, however, as a 23 year old, he has plenty of time to work those out of his game. For the three games played this weekend, he has a 1-2 record with a 2.04 GAA and a .919 save percentage. The goals against average and the save percentage are outstanding, and if those numbers hold true for the remainder of his time in the ECHL, not only will the Steelheads win a bunch of games while he is here, but I would consider it mission accomplished as far as the organizational goal of getting him quality playing time goes.
Stay tuned later this month for the regular Steelheads update.
John Mulhern covers the Idaho Steelheads for 100 Degree Hockey. In Boise, Mulhern works as on-air talent for the Steelheads broadcast team on KTIK Boise. You can check out his podcast at Two Sports Nuts.