BOISE, ID – Fall may be for Boise State Broncos football, but spring is about Idaho Steelheads hockey. The Steelheads have not missed the playoffs since joining the ECHL in 2003 — a run of 14 seasons (and have made the playoffs in 20 straight seasons dating back to the WPHL days) — and hoisted the Kelly Cup in 2004 and 2007.
With the 2017-18 season fast approaching, The Sin Bin spoke with the voice of the Steelheads, Brian McCormack, about Idaho’s history of success, and how they plan to sustain it.
The atmosphere both inside and out of the arena have contributed to the sustained success of the Steelheads. Talking with McCormack, he praised the city of Boise and the people in it. Boise is a beautiful town in the heart of Idaho full of friendly folks, and McCormack said that has an enormous impact on the players. With an average crowd of over 4,000 in a 5,000 seat arena, Idaho is among the ECHL leaders in percentage of seats filled (80%).
The Steelheads continued their run of making the playoffs last year, finishing 43-22-5-2 for third in the Mountain Division. In the first round of the postseason, however, Idaho fell in five games to the eventual Kelly Cup Champion Colorado Eagles. McCormack talked about the realities of life in the ECHL’s toughest division.
“The Mountain is always a tough division,” McCormack said. “Colorado is always tough obviously, and Allen as well. The Americans lost Chad Costello and Gary Steffes but will still be good, and Utah made a great run to get into the top four last year. You have to be tough to play in this division.”
Looking ahead to the coming year, we spoke of the offseason thus far for Idaho. The team is built around defense and goaltending and will have stability with many returning players on the back-end including Aaron Harstad. The defense has been the backbone of the team, and that will look to continue.
The question mark right now is offense, Idaho only has nine forwards signed as of right now. They are three good forwards to build around though, with captain Jefferson Dahl, Connor Chatham, and Will Merchant returning. Merchant had 48 points (21G, 27A) last year as a rookie, and Dahl added 66 points (22G, 44A), while Chatham seems poised for a big jump in his second season in Boise. McCormack talked about re-signing Dahl and his hopes for Chatham in 2017-18.
“The biggest re-signing is Jefferson Dahl, he is the captain and leader of the team,” McCormack said. “I also think Connor Chatham could have a breakout season.”
The offseason strategy in Idaho has been to enhance the core that already exists on the club. They are looking to add some speed to the trio of Dahl, Merchant, and Chatham on offense in the coming days, but the strength of the team remains to protect their net. The group manning the blue line continues to be rock solid and could be the best team in the ECHL, but if the Steelheads are to continue their playoff streak and advance past the first round for the first time since 2014, they will need to add offensive depth.
It will be a fun season out west as we wait to see which four teams will survive the grueling regular season to qualify for the playoffs from the Mountain Division. There will be little room for error, but Idaho seems ready for another strong run in 2017-18.
The Steelheads will play a preseason home-and-home with the Utah Grizzlies, with the second matchup coming in Boise on October 7. Idaho will open the regular season six days later, on October 13, as they host the Norfolk Admirals.
Check back with TheSinBin.net for Steelheads updates, and while you’re here check out all our AHL, ECHL, and SPHL coverage.