Idaho Steelheads Open The Season With Unfinished Business in Mind

(Credit: Idaho Steelheads)

Last season, the Idaho Steelheads set the ECHL all-time record for points and wins with a 58-victory season and 119 points. However, in June, the Kelly Cup did not make its way to Boise. 

Florida swept the Steelheads and took home the Cup.

Idaho opens their season tonight at home hanging two banners as conference champions and Brabham Cup champions (points leader), but they will not hang the one banner they wanted the most.

"You can't take away what we did," says Idaho Steelheads head coach and GM Everett Sheen when reached by phone on Thursday. "Obviously not the ultimate ending that we wanted with Kelly Cup there. But at the end of the day, what we accomplished over the course of the 72 game season was something truly special and something that no one can ever take away from that group of guys."

Similar to how the Texas Stars achieved remarkable regular season success last year, marking their second-best regular season record in team history, Sheen credits the closeness of the team off the ice as part of how they worked together so well.

As far as what he learned that he will apply this year, Sheen notes that finding ways to inject newness into what can sometimes become a grinding season across 72 games was a big learning.

"To be able to stay mentally sharp for that extended period of time was a good learning experience. How to keep things fresh and not so monotonous day to day. Finding ways of changing the pace a little bit for a little bit of energy here and there."

Idaho opens with a roster that includes 15 players returning from last season. Typically when a team has big success, fat contracts in Europe or the chance for AHL advancement lure players away. This year, the team returns those 15 with the mindset of unfinished business.

"Losing the finals really left a sour taste in the guys' mouths. Once they started hearing wind of who's coming back, they kept in touch all summer long. And, you know, they just started to see how many returners were coming back and they said 'Hey, I want to go back and try to finish the job.'"

(Credit: Idaho Steelheads)

Among the returners is sure future ECHL Hall of Famer Matt Register. Last year's Finals appearance was his fifth all-time and he sits just 60 games away from being the league's all-time games played record for defensemen. Returning players like Register was huge for the development of whoever is next in Boise. Last season, rookie Owen Headrick learned a ton from Register en route to a ECHL Defenseman of the Year honors.

"If you see a guy with 13 years in the league doing whatever it takes to win, if you're a first year guy, you're gonna be following him. [Register] worked with [Headrick] post practice on how to get your shot through on the power play and how to make different reads. I think he was very good for Headrick and he was also very good for [Cody] Haiskanen, who he was paired with most last year.

"With Ben Zloty coming in this year and Jake Murray, two Texas contracts, he's going take them under his wing and show them what it takes to be a pro at this level and how to have some success."

Owen Headrick with Texas last season
(Credit: Ross Bonander/Texas Stars)
Headrick moved on to AHL Chicago in the offseason. He got stuck in the logjam at defense last season and only played one game with Texas, despite probably earning more of a look based on the numbers. Sheen said that it was helpful that Idaho was winning in terms of the logjam. Players like Ryan Dmowski and Justin Ducharme also spent most of the year in Idaho despite great numbers.

"They may be tearing it up down here and there's no opportunity in Texas but they're still happy down here playing for the guys next to them. But that is a tough thing to maneuver like hey, it's not the way you're playing or anything, there's just no roster spots up there so just keep working and being patient."

Idaho will have to be patient and mind the grind as they kick off Game 1 of their conference title defense and hope to add the final piece of hardware this coming spring.

The Steelheads put the puck down at home tonight at 7:10 PM MT against the Allen Americans.