|(Credit: Idaho Steelheads)|
“Neil has been a tremendous leader for our hockey team over the last two seasons,” said Steelheads President Eric Trapp. “He has maintained a tradition of winning for our organization, and he has helped us foster a strong relationship with our fans and the community.”
Graham maintained the longest playoff streak in professional hockey, extending a long history of success in Boise for the ECHL and former WCHL squad.
I caught up with Graham this week as he continues to prep for the coming season. With some distance from last season, he's had some time to reflect on the year, which saw a first round exit for the Steelheads at the hands of the eventual ECHL champions, the Colorado Eagles.
"It was a pretty good season. You lose sight of how good of a year it was with the early exit in the playoffs. 43 wins and we finished 6th in the entire ECHL. We were trending upward heading into the playoffs. It was tough to lose out in the first round."
In each of the last two years, the Kelly Cup champ has come from Idaho's division: Allen in 2016 and Colorado this year. Graham knows that "getting out of our division" is a key marker of playoff success for his club on the way to the championship.
"Our goal every season is to win the Kelly Cup. We just have to be that much better for the postseason."
To get that much better, Graham is still in his office in late July working the phones and consulting dozens of lists and spreadsheets while doing it.
"We're trying to find players that fit our mold and match on and off the ice with the returners we have coming back. We put time and homework in over the summer to make that happen."
The club wants to add scoring depth, team toughness and speed. Team toughness, Graham notes, doesn't mean fighting; it means being tougher to play against throughout the lineup.
A goalie battle is set up in Cedar Park between former Steelheads Landon Bow and Philippe Desrosiers. Graham expects one of the two in Boise to start the season.
"It's always an open dialogue with the affiliation. Right now, it's a wait and see. I know I will see a goaltender from the affiliation. They have to do what's right for their current roster and the long term development of their prospects."