BOISE, Idaho – After losing three straight games to Utah at the tail end of a nine-game road swing, the Idaho Steelheads were more than ready to play in front of their home crowd for the first time in three and a half weeks.
However, against the ever-competitive Rapid City Rush, the Steelies almost let victory slip right through their fingertips Wednesday night.
Carrying a 2-0 lead from early in the first period, Idaho saw their two-goal advantage evaporate before their very eyes in the dying moments of regulation. Rapid City defenseman Chris Leibinger and captain Riley Weselowski scored with one minute, 23 seconds and then nine seconds (respectively) left in the third period to force a sudden-victory overtime. However, to spoil the comeback, Steelheads d-man Charlie Dodero placed a puck on goal that was inadvertently put back into Rapid City’s net by a Rush player, securing the 3-2 OT win for Idaho after squandering the victory in regulation.
Head Coach Neil Graham reflected on the previous road trip, as well as the Wednesday night win.
“The nine games on the road, we started off that road swing pretty good at 4-2. Those final three (games) got away from us. We didn’t necessarily play awful, but we were missing that final gear, a little bit of that edge. At the end of the day, that’s what can happen when you’re on a 16-day road trip. We can learn lessons from it moving forward, if we’re in situations like that down the road. But, to get back here, regroup in front of our fans, play the game we want to play…I thought our tempo was much better, especially in the first ten minutes of the game. Our tempo and our layers of speed were much better than we saw the previous week, so that’s something we wanted to get back to.”
After yielding the first goal to their opponents in four consecutive games prior, the Steelheads exorcized said demons on the stick of returning forward Henrik Samuelsson. In his ECHL season debut after 40 games played with AHL Rockford, the Pittsburgh native made fast friends with his new linemate Reid Petryk, receiving a brilliant pass from behind the goal line before swatting it backhand past Rapid City netminder Adam Carlson for the first tally of the night at 4:17 of the first frame. Center Kyle Schempp was quick to follow Samuelsson’s lead, deflecting in a Dodero shot from the point outside the left wing faceoff circle at 5:54 to give the Steelies a quick 2-0 in the first six minutes of gameplay.
— Idaho Steelheads (@Steelheads) February 14, 2019
Returning from a ten-game suspension, Idaho forward Kale Kessy brought his physical brand of hockey back to the Steelheads lineup, engaging in not one but two fights with Rapid City’s Richard Coyne. The first bout of fisticuffs came at the 14:07 mark of the first, with Kessy and Coyne squaring up in Rapid City’s zone before tying up. Kessy landed a handful of punches before Coyne expediently went down in defeat.
The second fight was instigated in the second period when Kessy landed an open-ice hit on Rush forward Justin Faryna in the neutral zone, knocking Faryna down. Kessy then playfully tapped the former EIHL vet on the head with the blade of his stick. Coyne, more than likely sticking up for his embarrassed teammate, begrudgingly dropped the gloves, his hesitant look probably indicative of the previous fight’s result. Kessy made quick work of Coyne again, flashing a “2-0” sign with his hands after yet another knockdown.
Being outshot 14-6 in the first period by Idaho, Rapid City stormed back on the shot sheet in the second and third stanzas, winning the second 9-7 and third 11-7 regarding pucks on net. Rush Head Coach Daniel Tetrault aggressively pulled Carlson just before the 17:30 mark of the third, giving the Rush an extra skater for a full two and a half minutes. After the Leibinger goal, Carlson briefly manned his net for the center-ice faceoff before vacating it again soon after. A roughing minor from Samuelsson at 19:17 of the third gave the Rush a 6-on-4 advantage, and with time running out, Weselowski centered himself at the blue line before unleashing a slapper past Idaho goaltender Tomas Sholl with just 9.2 seconds left on the clock.
The Steelheads outshot the Rush 4-1 in the overtime period, with the fourth and final shot being the dagger in Rapid City’s comeback attempt. Idaho’s Dodero, accompanied on the ice by captain A.J. White and Kale Kessy during 3-on-3 play, weaved his way through the offensive zone before placing a shot on net that rebounded out to the front of Carlson. In an attempt to clear the puck out of the crease, Rush defenseman Josh Elmes ended up putting the puck in his own net, with credit going to Dodero for his first of the year at 1:58 of overtime.
THREE FIRSTS OF THE SEASON
Henrik Samuelsson dressed in a Steelheads uniform for the first time since the 2017-18 season Wednesday night, spending exactly a full calendar year away from Idaho with AHL Rockford (Samuelsson was loaned to the IceHogs on February 12, 2018; he was loaned back to the Steelheads by Rockford on February 12, 2019). Did Henrik know the time had been so precise since he last skated in Idaho?
“No, I did not…that’s weird! I am happy to be here to get some playing time. I haven’t played a lot in awhile…I felt a little rusty out there, but I’m sure that rust will come off real quick.”
It was only fitting he’d pot his first ECHL goal of the year during his season debut, opening the evening’s scoring up with linemates Kale Kessy and Reid Petryk. Samuelsson finished with a plus-one rating and four shots on goal for the night.
Another first goal of the season came from Idaho d-man Charlie Dodero, who played in his second home game of the year after spending over a month and a half on injured reserve. After beginning the season with Tingsryds AIF in Sweden’s 1st Division, Dodero came back stateside to make his ECHL season debut against Kansas City on December 12. With his stint on IR, he didn’t play again until February 1 at Allen in the middle of Idaho’s nine-game road trip.
“It definitely does feel good to be able to contribute with the team on the ice. I tried my best to stay close to the group while I wasn’t on the ice. It’s definitely good for me and my family to be back in Boise, first of all, and being able to get back on the ice with my teammates.”
Dodero also notched his second assist of the season Wednesday night on Kyle Schempp’s first period tally.
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