BOISE, Idaho – Well hello again, hockey fans! The ever-diligent C.C. Hawkley here to give you my lighthearted (yet infinitely informative) rundown of the Idaho Steelheads for the calendar year of 2018.
Idaho began 2018 by snapping a three-game losing streak in a 6-3 win over the Allen Americans on January 5. The win sealed coaching victory number 100 for Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham. Just a day before, forward Justin Parizek was named to the ECHL/CCM All-Star Classic team for the Mountain Division (you can read his All-Star feature piece here). Then-Steelheads Play-by-Play Broadcaster, Brian McCormack, also received the all-star nod by being selected for the broadcast team (alongside Cincinnati Cyclones commentator Everett Fitzhugh) to call the game on the NHL Network. The game took place on January 15, with the Mountain Division emerging victorious over the South Division with a 6-5 shootout victory in the final round of the four-division tournament.
The month started off with Idaho retiring their fourth number in franchise history. Former Steelheads forward Scott Burt had his number 12 immortalized at CenturyLink Arena on February 3 (a detailed piece on his career can be read here) during the first intermission of Idaho’s match-up against the Utah Grizzlies.
Back on the ice, with a six-game super series against the Colorado Eagles, the Steelheads made the most of it by taking ten points out of twelve and five wins out of six games (including a home shutout on February 16 and shootout win the next evening on February 17). The success propelled Idaho into solidifying second place in the Mountain Division, a spot they would maintain until the playoffs. Goaltender Ryan Faragher would head to AHL Stockton on February 14 for the rest of the season, leaving netminding duties to Philippe Desrosiers for the home series against the Eagles.
The month of March was the month of “Sholly the Goalie” for the Steelies, as Tomas Sholl joined the club after a trade with the Adirondack Thunder on March 1. After a shootout loss to Allen in his first game with Idaho on March 7, Sholl rattled off eight straight wins, earning himself ECHL/CCM Goalie of the Month honors for March (He took some time out after a Monday morning practice to talk with The Sin Bin on March 17; you can read that interview in the article linked here). Idaho also clinched their twenty-first straight playoff berth on March 23 against Rapid City, the longest current streak in professional hockey.
The first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs didn’t start off particularly kind to Idaho in the beginning of April, with the Allen Americans taking a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series after two games in Boise and one in Texas. The return of Idaho captain Jefferson Dahl for Game Three (after an end-of-season PTO with AHL Cleveland) brought some welcome leadership back to the club, as did defenseman Shane Hanna bolstering the blue line back from AHL Texas in games four through seven. After winning two games in a row on the road, Idaho came back home to take games six and seven and complete only the second “reverse sweep” in ECHL history in their 4-1 win on April 25.
With the competitive series Idaho had with Colorado in February, one would think the second round and Mountain Division Final between the two teams would go the distance to six and perhaps all seven allotted games. Alas, this was not the case, as the Eagles swept the series against the Steelheads four games to none, finishing off Idaho in front of the Boise faithful on May 3 in a tight 1-0 overtime victory. It was the first time in Coach Graham’s four-year tenure behind the Idaho bench that he had taken the Steelheads to the second round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Colorado would eventually win the 2018 Kelly Cup Final after defeating both Fort Wayne and Florida in back-to-back seven-game series.
Idaho began the offseason by announcing the re-signing of two forwards from the 2017-18 squad: scoring leader Steve McParland (June 18) and alternate captain Mitch Moroz (June 28). Former Steelheads player Jay Beagle made hockey history on June 7 by becoming the first player to win NHL, AHL, and ECHL championships when his Washington Capitals team defeated the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup in five games. He had won his first title, the Kelly Cup Championship, with the Steelheads in 2007.
The Steelheads continued to reload for the coming 2018-19 regular season with a bevy of signings, both of returning skaters and new faces. Goaltender Tomas Sholl was the first signing of the month (July 5), followed by forward A.J. White (July 10), defenseman Eric Sweetman (July 17), forward Jack Nevins (July 19), rookie d-man Brady Norrish (July 24), third-year forward Connor Chatham (July 26), and AHL-seasoned center Kyle Schempp (July 31). On July 16, Idaho also extended their affiliation with the Dallas Stars organization through the 2019-20 season.
More and more player signings were announced through the summer, but oddly only a handful of August signings remained on the roster at the end of 2018. Of the eight signings announced, only defenseman Keegan Kanzig and netminder Ryan Faragher are currently on Idaho’s active roster. Those no longer with the Steelheads include Justin Parizek (suspended), Dexter Dancs & Joe Pendenza (traded to Manchester), Avery Peterson (traded to Norfolk), Michael Neville (traded to Florida), and Sean Campbell (traded to Atlanta).
A few more signings trickled in for Idaho as summer progressed into autumn, with rookie defenseman Clint Lewis (September 4) and returning forward Alexander Dahl (September 6) being announced early in the month. The ECHL rights of forward Tommy Thompson were traded to Florida for the rights of fellow forward Justin Kea on September 7, while left winger Kale Kessy joined the squad on September 18. In between transactions, broadcaster Brian McCormack left the Steelheads booth to become the new play-by-play announcer for the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage on September 10. Idaho hired broadcaster Collin Schuck on September 27 to become the Steelheads new Director of Broadcasting and Media Relations.
Before the start of the 2018-19 regular season, former San Antonio Rampage forward Reid Petryk signed with Idaho on October 10. Idaho stalwart goalie Philippe Desrosiers re-joined the club from AHL Texas on October 12 before their season opener on the road against Wichita, and the Steelies traded away Justin Kea to the Fort Wayne Komets to acquire defenseman Jeff King on October 17. Idaho went 4-3-1 in October against Wichita, Tulsa, Utah, and Indy.
After starting the month losing the first six of seven games, Idaho re-grouped with a big trade and officially named their leadership corps. The Steelheads acquired standout defenseman (and facial hair wonder) Colton Saucerman from Manchester in exchange for forwards Joe Pendenza and Jack Nevins on November 13. The following day, A.J. White was dubbed team captain, alongside announced alternate captains Connor Chatham, Keegan Kanzig, and Mitch Moroz. From November 16 on, the Steelheads finished the month winning five out of six against Rapid City and Jacksonville.
The Teddy Bear Toss on December 1 against Jacksonville started the month off on a fuzzy note for the Steelies, earning the 3-2 overtime victory over the Icemen to start the month off on a winning (and beary charitable) note. As Idaho won four games in a row, defenseman Charlie Dodero returned from a short stint in Sweden for his fifth season with Steelheads on December 8. The previously mentioned Saucerman received a call-up from AHL Utica on December 9. Amongst only two team losses for the month, goalie Ryan Faragher won ECHL/CCM Goaltender of the Week for December 10-16, his fourth time earning the honor. Faragher went 2-0-0, with one shutout, a 0.50 GAA, and .981 save percentage in two starts against Kansas City.
Did I miss any major Steelheads happenings in 2018? Let me know in the comments below! And, in the meantime, have yourself a Happy New Year! C.C. out!