BOISE, Idaho — Those who follow the Idaho Steelheads and Allen Americans know how both teams bring a physical brand of hockey to the rink almost every game. Coming into game one of the Mountain Division Semifinal, rough and tumble play was more than expected from both squads as the first playoff puck dropped Friday night in Boise.
A minute and a half later, Jack Nevins and Mike Gunn dropped their gloves and proved both teams’ track records true.
Both Idaho and Allen incurred five penalties apiece, as the Americans earned a scrappy 3-2 victory at CenturyLink Arena for the opening game of a best-of-seven series. Allen’s Braylon Shmyr and David Makowski posted goals in the first period, with Idaho’s Aaron Harstad netting a power-play goal in between. Steelheads forward Steve McParland was the only goal scorer in the second frame, while Americans left winger Bryan Moore dealt the decisive blow to Idaho with the sole tally of the third.
Idaho forward Justin Parizek and defenseman Eric Sweetman both collected two assists on Harstad’s and McParland’s goals, but Sweetman was quick to discount his individual stats over in-game mistakes.
“Honestly, I don’t really care for those two assists,” Sweetman confessed. “I was on the ice for two goals. one I lost my guy, and he’s the one that ended up scoring. That’s what I’m worried about. There’s chemistry with the first line there, but if I can’t shut down the (defensive zone), that’s not really helping.”
Instead of being invigorated by the Nevins-Gunn fight, the Steelheads seemed sluggish when Shmyr scored just 25 seconds later at 1:56 of the first. The slow start quickly subsided for Idaho, however, as they began to generate passing sequences and put shots on net. The Steelheads were rewarded for their quick recovery when Allen’s Moore went to the box for roughing at 4:12 of the first frame and the ensuing faceoff victory by Parizek to Sweetman allowed Harstad to wrister a shot past Allen netminder Jake Paterson just five seconds later at 4:17.
The tie game lasted until late in the opening period when a failed clearing attempt by Idaho was scooped up by Allen’s Makowski in the Steelheads zone. Makowski drilled a wrist shot by Idaho goaltender Philippe Desrosiers, giving Allen a 2-1 lead at the 17:30 mark of the first frame. Allen and Idaho traded scoring chances to close out the first, ending with the shots on goal tally in Allen’s favor, 10-9.
The Steelheads decided to mimic Allen at the beginning of the game’s middle playing period, scoring yet another first line goal with McParland getting a feed from Sweetman and Parizek at 1:52. Allen’s J.C. Campagna committed a hooking penalty at 4:02; the Steelheads responded with quick play and crisp tape-to-tape passing. Idaho’s Joe Faust then went to the penalty box for tripping at 9:11 of the second; the Steelheads killed said penalty with numerous short-handed drives into Allen’s zone. After creeping slowly ahead on shots (and incurring another penalty through Tommy Thompson’s kneeing minor), the Steelheads found themselves back to an even slate and a 2-2 score after two.
The third period carried with it a ramped up sense of urgency and physicality from both squads, typified early by both Idaho’s Max French and Allen’s Zach Pochiro serving minor roughing penalties after a melee in front of the Americans bench at 3:58. The resulting 4-on-4 play came and went after two minutes, resulting in a snap-quick scoring chance by Allen’s Moore that beat Desrosiers and put the Americans ahead again at 6:14 of the final regulation segment.
Idaho continued to push the puck into Allen’s zone, cycling the puck around and trying to generate shots on Paterson. Fans began to get unruly, however, at about the 12:00 mark of the third, when a number of questionable calls (culminating in Steelheads forward Connor Chatham being pinned into the back of Allen’s net while on the ground) led to raucous, uniform chants of, “Ref, you suck!” Considering such chants haven’t been heard at CenturyLink Arena during the regular season, the heightened emotions of postseason hockey could have very well been to blame for the fans’ negative response.
Despite such vitriol, the men in stripes sent French to the penalty box once more (this time for interference) at 13:51 of the third. Bearing fruit on the penalty kill, the Steelheads pushed the puck until pulling Desrosiers with about 1:45 left to play in regulation. Allen’s defense stepped up, doing a commendable job to snuff out the man advantage generated by the pulled goalie. The Americans hung on to their one-goal margin, taking Game 1 on the road and a 1-0 series lead heading into Saturday.
News of Note
Idaho received Desrosiers and Thompson back from the AHL’s Texas Stars on April 9 and 12, respectively, for Idaho’s postseason run. Desrosiers served as the backup to Landon Bow in Texas while Mike McKenna was fulfilling his call-up to the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Thompson played 36 games for Texas in two stints with the team this year, netting three goals and ten assists with a plus-one rating before his final recall back to Idaho.
Allen defenseman David Makowski had an eventful season’s end, playing in two games for the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda in late March, then being recalled to Allen on April 6 before finishing second in the CCM/ECHL Defenseman of the Year voting (behind Colorado’s Matt Register). Makowski also finished second in league scoring for defensemen, once again behind Register, with 43 assists and 54 points total for the year. He had one goal and a plus-two rating against the Steelheads on Friday night.
Allen and Idaho will play game two tonight in Boise at 7:10 pm (MT). Games three, four, and, if necessary, five will be played at the Allen Event Center, while games six and seven will return to CenturyLink Arena if the series goes the distance.