BOISE, Idaho – On Wednesday night, for the first time in ECHL history, the Idaho Steelheads hosted the Toledo Walleye at CenturyLink Arena in downtown Boise. The two squared off earlier this season at the Huntington Center in Toledo, with the Walleye emerging victorious in both matches (a 4-0 shutout victory on November 2 and a 3-2 win on November 3). But with Toledo currently second and Idaho fourth in the Western Conference standings, the “Battle of the Fishes” carries with it much more weight just two months later.
Idaho took advantage of two goals from forward Steve McParland, one tally from defenseman Keegan Kanzig, and a fourth goal from returning center Robbie Payne to outlast a persistent Toledo by a score of 4-2. The Walleye’s two lone goals came from Matt Register and T.J. Hensick in the first and second periods, respectively, before the McParland and Payne goals put the game out of reach for Toledo in the third. Visiting goaltender Pat Nagle saved 29 out of 33 shots faced in the losing effort.
McParland’s first of two goals on the night came at 14:00 of the first period, when fellow forward Reid Petryk was pushed into the corner after driving into the Toledo zone. After putting the puck on net, three Steelheads skaters converged on Nagle, with the puck entering the crease and McParland guiding it past the goal line and into the net. Idaho outshot Toledo 19-6 in the first frame, an effort much to the delight of Steelheads head coach Neil Graham.
“Our first period was one of the best first twenty’s of the season for our group,” said Graham. “I thought everyone was contributing and we rolled the lines pretty well. The pace that we played at was very important for us. We came out buzzing, and that was a big reason we won the game tonight.”
Toledo retaliated in the second period with both increased shots on net (12) and their two aforementioned goals. Register netted his game-tying goal at 4:17 of the second on an assist from forward Dylan Sadowy. The puck was placed on the defenseman’s stick right in front of Idaho’s goal before the more-renowned facilitator turned and had his shot deflected passed Steelheads netminder Tomas Sholl. The three-time ECHL Defenseman of the Year leads all league d-men with 30 points (6G, 24A).
Shortly after the Toledo equalizer, Idaho both incurred and killed a two-minute minor penalty. The culprit of said infraction, Steelheads defenseman Keegan Kanzig, then exited the penalty box to join Idaho in their own zone. After a Nolan Gluchowski steal and pass ahead to Elgin Pearce, Kanzig and Pearce broke out into the neutral zone, creating a two-on-one opportunity for the once again even-strength Steelies. Pearce then threaded a pass to Kanzig in the right faceoff circle, putting the puck in the net and Idaho up 2-1 at 6:57 of period two.
“It was a big play by Gluchowski to recognize that the penalty was over and not ice it down,” Kanzig acknowledged. “He advanced the puck, Pearce just made a great pass, and I had the easy job of putting it home.”
Toledo responded ten and half minutes later, as Hensick turned on the jets and rocketed up the short boards into the Idaho zone. Steelheads defenseman Geoff Crisfield, caught out of position by the sudden burst of speed, dove to defend a driving Hensick to no avail. The league’s leader in points went from backhand to forehand, notching his 14th goal of the season and 44th point of the year at 15:20 of the second stanza.
As the third period began, it was apparent that Idaho had had enough of the back-and-forth scoring and wanted to put away Toledo for good. McParland drove home a rebound after an initial shot from center Kyle Schempp just 46 seconds into the final frame. A Walleye defender then knocked Petryk down into Nagle three minutes later, leaving a gaping net for Payne to score his fourth ECHL goal of the year at 3:47 of the third.
Starting out with a 7 to 2 shots on goal advantage in the third, Toledo then rattled off 11 unanswered shots on net to finish out the game. Fresh off his All-Star nod this past Monday, Sholl stopped all 13 shots faced in the final regulation frame, earning his 13th victory of the season with 29 saves on 31 shots faced (.935 SV%).
‘STEVIE WONDER’ RETURNS
After four games played with AHL San Diego and his first American League goal on December 29, “Stevie Wonder” Steve McParland returned to the Steelheads Sunday afternoon against Tulsa before coming back to Boise to host Toledo. Although he did not register any points in the loss to the Oilers, his previously mentioned two goals helped lift the Steelheads over the Walleye Wednesday night. In spite of the two AHL call-ups he’s had this year (Stockton and San Diego), McParland remains even keel.
“I try not to think about it too much,” McParland said of the recent movement between the AHL and ECHL. “I try to get ready for every game the same way…just do the little things. If you get in your head too much, you kind of jinx yourself or lose the right mindset. So, I try to keep the same mindset going into any game.”
With an assist in Idaho’s win against Toledo, defenseman Nolan Gluchowski tallied his 14th helper in the past ten games. The only time in that ten-game stretch that he was held without an assist was this past Sunday in the Steelheads’ 3-1 loss to Tulsa. Idaho defenseman Jeff King was also in a giving mood Wednesday night, notching three assists after being held pointless for his previous five games played. King is now tied for third on the team concerning assists, with 15 in 34 games played.
GET YOUR SUSPENSION CHECKED
Toledo forward Bryan Moore will be returning to the Walleye lineup on Friday night after sitting out Wednesday with a one-game suspension. Moore was asked to sit by the league for one game after incurring a major misconduct penalty in the last five minutes of an 8-2 loss against Wheeling Saturday night. Idaho left winger Mitch Moroz, after his multiple major infractions on December 29 (against Rapid City) led to a five-game suspension, will be eligible to return for the Steelheads on Saturday night.
Toledo will look to get even against Idaho on Friday night, as the two teams face off yet again for the middle game of their three-game set. Puck is set to drop at 7:10 pm MT.