|CenturyLink Arena (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)|
The only constant in life is change. That statement has never been more accurate for the Idaho Steelheads this past offseason.
The more things change; the more things stay the same. That statement was never more accurate for the Idaho Steelheads than this past weekend.
This offseason, the Steelheads were expected to have an overhauled roster. After last season’s early exit in the playoffs, the number of players that had earned a look at either the AHL level or overseas was very high. In the NHL, I believe it would have been possible to have most of that core back for another go at a championship. But in the ECHL and with roster restrictions on both veteran players and salary requirements, it wasn’t going to be able to happen.
Because of these circumstances, eight different players jumped over the pond and now play in Europe, and a few others moved to other teams within the ECHL. Jason Bast, Alex Belzile, Wade MacLeod all pursued other options. However, Idaho was able to bring back some quality and character players for another go around. Colton Beck, Jefferson Dahl, Rob Linsmayer, Andrew Carroll, Jake Rutt, Zack Kamrass and Shawn Boutin all signed on to come back to the Steelheads. That’s seven players from years prior, the most interesting one is Andrew Carroll who decided to come back to the City of Trees after taking a whole year off to get a degree after spending time before that with the Condors in Bakersfield during the 2013-14 season. Something must be good in town if it can draw that type if veteran back into the fold.
The other big change for the Steelheads this off-season was in the office. Head Coach Brad Ralph moved on in August to become the coach of the Kelowna Rockets. But, the Powers That Be, knew that Ralph for the past two and a half seasons had an apprentice by the name of Neil Graham. He was very quickly promoted from Assistant to Head Coach of the Steelheads. To replace himself as assistant, he was able to bring in former Steelheads defenseman Gord Baldwin. Another name from the past with ties to the team, but also a great defensive pedigree to help what was probably going to shape up to be a young defensive corps.
After 10 days of intense on and off ice training, and two preseason games, the Steelheads opening night roster looked like this:
Forwards: Taylor Peters, Joe Basaraba, Brandon Magee, Quinn Smith, Damian Cross, Jefferson Dahl, Chance Braid, Rob Linsmayer, Carson McMillan (C), Colton Beck, Andrew Carroll, Andre Bouvet-Morrissette, Emil Molin
Defensemen: Tommy Fallen, Daniel Johnston, Jake Rutt, Cole Martin, Corbin Baldwin, Zack Kamrass, Shawn Boutin, Andrew Panzarella
Goaltenders: Philippe Desrosiers, Eric Hartzell
You can see from the list, a good number of those players have some ties with the Texas Stars as well. Something I’ll try to do as we go through the season to give a bit more detail on some of those players each time we have an update to report.
That was the changing part of the equation, from new Head Coach to a fair amount of roster turnover, there was change in the off-season. The part where things stayed the same, was on the ice for Idaho this past weekend. The team was fast, played physical, and had a bunch of scoring opportunities. It was a calling card for the Brad Ralph version of the Steelheads and it appear that it will continue for the Steelheads under Neil Graham.
The weekend's games
The Rapid City Rush (Springfield Falcons) came into town to play their first ever games against Idaho, in Idaho and in their new division (Western). On Friday night, things played out just as you would hope if you are a Steelheads fan.
That start of the game was a bit slower on the score sheet, but the action was fast pace up and down the ice. Graham has said on multiple occasions that this Steelheads team is going to be a fast-paced team that is going to have a physical element to it. That is what those in attendance saw on Friday.
One other attribute the team seems to be employing early in the year is the offensive defensemen. Cole Martin scored the first goal of the game and season for the Steelheads after some good forecheck work from Daniel Johnston and Andre Bouvet-Morrissette. Idaho got a 1-0 lead which they would never give back after the first period.
Idaho added on in the second and third period as Colton Beck, Jefferson Dahl and Andrew Carroll would all add their first goals of the year to make it 4-0 before Rapid City would get on the board. Beck would add his second of the game to cap the scoring for an Idaho 5-1 opening night victory. Eric Hartzell got the start in net and stopped 22 of 23 shots against.
On Saturday it once again looked like Idaho was going to run the Rush right out of the building as the Steelheads got goals from Taylor Peters and Dahl to jump out to a 2-0 lead. The Rush would make it 2-1 before Martin got his second of the year, and Carson McMillan his first to give the Steelheads a 4-1 lead after the first.
Rapid City got a late goal in the second to make it 4-2, then two more in the third to tie the game up with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. At that point it was time for the first official 3 on 3 overtime session for either of these two teams, and after a nice play by the Rush to get the puck out at their blue line sprung a 2 on 0 rush on goaltender Philippe Desrosiers, the Rush made no mistakes and buried their chance as they escaped with a 5-4 win. Desrosiers played well in the game stopping 28 of 33 shots including some outstanding saves and a sprawling glove save on the penalty kill in the first period.
For Idaho, Saturday night’s game was disappointing because they slowly gave back a three goal lead to ultimately lose a game, but since it was only the second game of the year, and a point was still earned, I think it will ultimately go down as a good teaching moment for Graham and Gord Baldwin. Opponents are going to play all 60+ minutes of a game, and no one can afford to take a shift off. Watching the game live, it appeared that the Steelheads tried to hang on to win, instead of continuing to push forward and full marks to Rapid City for making the adjustments to take advantage.
The Steelheads now hit the road next week as they travel up to Alaska to play the Aces (Independent) for 3 games before they return home for one game on October 30 against the Utah Grizzlies (San Diego).
Until next time...
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.