BOISE, Idaho – On the brink. Staving off elimination. Down and almost out.
Back in April, the Idaho Steelheads faced the Allen Americans in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and were looking at their fourth first-round exit in as many years. Miraculously, the Steelheads turned it around and completed only the second “reverse sweep” in ECHL playoff history, winning four games in a row when down 3-0 in a series. Idaho, unfortunately, couldn’t continue their winning ways in the next round, losing four straight against the eventual Kelly Cup Champions, the Colorado Eagles.
Now, the Steelheads begin anew.
With 11 players returning from last year’s team, Idaho brings back a solid returning core of players that include leading scorers Steve McParland and Justin Parizek. Let’s preview this upcoming season by breaking down the stats, headlines, and predictions for the Steelheads in 2018-19!
Nuts and Bolts:
2017-18 Record: 44-20-8 (.667)
Division/Conference Finish: 2nd in the Mountain Division, 4th in the Western Conference
Playoff Finish: Lost to Colorado in the Mountain Division Final (second round) in four games
Record vs. Division: 38-17-5 (.633)
Record vs. Conference: 41-18-8 (.612)
Goals For Per Game: 3.39 (7th in ECHL)
Goals Against Per Game: 2.61 (4th in ECHL)
Power Play: 17.5% (13th in ECHL)
Penalty Kill: 84.2% (9th in ECHL)
How will Idaho’s defensive turnover affect this year’s squad? The only returning d-man for Idaho from last season is Eric Sweetman, who posted a solid 27 points and plus-22 in 65 regular season games. Idaho will get “D” help from AHL affiliate Texas (with a re-assigned Nolan Gluchowski and Ondrej Vala) as well as from big bruising, off-season acquisition Keegan Kanzig. The rest of the defensive roster is occupied by rookies Sean Campbell, Geoff Crisfield, Clint Lewis, and Brady Norrish.
Will players’ AHL experience serve as a benefit or detriment? Four new players under contract for the Steelheads have a combined 617 AHL games to their credit: Joe Pendenza (206), Reid Petryk (205), Kale Kessy (160), and Kyle Schempp (46). Having such AHL-caliber talent could be a huge advantage…that is, if the players stay down in the ECHL. Kessy has already been called up on a tryout with Manitoba (October 3) and could be a sign of things to come if American League teams come calling to Idaho.
Who will be team captain this year? Idaho’s captain from the past two seasons, Jefferson Dahl, is missing in action and rumored to have retired. With his absence, a number of well-qualified candidates (both new additions and returning Idaho players) could step up to take the mantle of leadership for the Steelheads.
Head Coach Neil Graham, after practice on Monday, October 8:
“Lot of good players in that locker room…we’re excited about the direction we’re heading right now. Guys are still learning. To get into the second week of camp here, (there’s) a lot of promising things. I thought we took a step [Monday] in practice, which is exciting as a coach to see us elevate our game from last week, where we were a little hesitant at times because we were thinking a little much. I think this week, it was more ingrained in us, and we weren’t thinking as much when we were playing. Some of the secondary stuff was coming through.”
Mitch Moroz – A freak post-fight incident in December 2017 put Moroz out of action for the rest of 2017-18. The left winger had spent the previous three seasons in the AHL with Oklahoma City, Bakersfield, and Tucson, totaling 28 points and 314 penalty minutes. Now healthy, the Edmonton native looks to bring physicality back to the table for Idaho.
Joe Pendenza – A sourced ECHL correspondent was quoted this offseason about Pendenza:
“(He) is an ECHL top-liner. His impeccable speed serves him very well as a winger, but he is often placed at center because of how dominant he is in the faceoff circles. After last season’s injury — he was injured against a top AHL fighter who took a run at his goalie — it’s hard to tell how much of the original Joe Pendenza will be present this season. That said, if he comes back the same or better, it’s likely he’ll get quite a bit of AHL time.”
Connor Chatham / Jack Nevins / A.J. White – Three returning players from last season’s team were grouped together often during Idaho’s 2-1 shootout preseason loss to Utah on Saturday, October 6. Chatham and White posted 31 and 34 points (respectively) last season, while Nevins contributed 24 points of his own (and 163 PIMs) in 58 games split between Greenville and Idaho last year. With the scoring capabilities of Chatham and White and the exceptional grit & toughness of Nevins, these three could step up to be a formidable second line in 2018-19.
Gone but Not Forgotten:
Jefferson Dahl – 29-year-old forward is unsigned, presumed retired
Philippe Desrosiers – 23-year-old goaltender signed a one-year, two-way NHL/AHL contract with Dallas on July 12
Joe Faust – 26-year-old defenseman is unsigned, presumed retired
Sin Bin Swami Sez:
Idaho’s new faces on defense could be a concern to some, but the fresh start and clean slate (with Sweetman as the foundation) may be just what the Steelheads need. As previously mentioned, the reload of AHL-caliber talent this offseason allows Idaho to remain competitive in the gauntlet that is the Mountain Division. With Colorado moving up to the AHL, formidable foes like Allen, Tulsa, Wichita, and Utah will give Idaho all they can handle it pursuit of the division crown. My pick is that Idaho will thrive and finish second in the division behind Utah, reaching their second Mountain Division Final in as many years.