LOVELAND, CO. – The Idaho Steelheads came into The Centennial State of Colorado fresh off of four straight victories and a game 7 win against the Allen Americans to close out round one of their Kelly Cup Divisional Semifinal. History had been made, momentum was on their side, and their next opponent was a Colorado Eagles team that looked underwhelming in their opening round series with the Wichita Thunder.
Now, after games 1 and 2 of the Mountain Division Final, we find a rejuvenated Eagles squad with a 2-0 series lead after taking their first two home games against the Steelheads.
Defense was the theme of the night in Game 1, as neither Idaho nor Colorado could tally a goal in regulation play. Thankfully, on the fourth anniversary of the longest game in ECHL history (a 4OT endeavor between, yes, the Steelheads and the Eagles), it only took one extra period to decide a winner in this one.
Both teams started off with a couple shots on goal in the first four minutes of play before Idaho inched ahead on the shot sheet, 4-2, at around the 8:30 mark of the first. The Steelheads continued to ramp up their chances on net as the period went on, ending the first frame with a slight 8-6 advantage over the Eagles in regards to shots on goal.
A disciplined first period, with both teams incurring one penalty each, led to a slightly more eventful second segment of play in the PIMs column. Both teams traded drives into one another’s zones, without much in the way of actually getting the puck on net. It wasn’t until Eagles forward Joey Ratelle got his stick up into the face of Steelheads d-man Shane Hanna that first blood was drawn, literally, as Hanna showed one of the officials his crimson flow that earned Ratelle a double-minor penalty at 11:11 of the second.
Idaho could not make good with four minutes of power play time, as an Aaron Harstad holding penalty from the Steelheads at 18:16 in the second was the last infraction of the game. The Colorado Eagles began to increase shots on goal on Idaho netminder Philippe Desrosiers as the third period began and continued on, with Idaho hanging in with a few chances of their own on Eagles’ goalie Joe Cannata. Colorado stayed ahead of Idaho on the shot sheet for the final two regulation periods, totaling 11-8 and 17-12, respectively.
The goal that sealed Idaho’s fate for Game 1 came when Colorado forward Ryan Harrison took a reverse cut up the right wing, from the goal line to the blue line, before centering a pass to defenseman Collin Bowman for a one-timer. Desrosiers’ Gatorade bottle went flying as the puck hit the top-shelf twine for the one and only goal for either team in this match-up, ending the game at 13:18 of overtime.
Cannata had 35 saves in the shutout victory; Desrosiers accumulated 37 saves on 38 shots faced in the goaltending duel Saturday night.
The second game of the weekend between Idaho and Colorado provided more fireworks than Game 1 did, both in penalty minutes and scoring, as both teams had 18 infractions between them and the Eagles blowing the Steelheads out of the water by a score of 6-2. Idaho forward Max French scored the only two goals for Idaho, while Colorado forwards J.C. Beaudin and Shawn St. Amant had two goals apiece. Eagles defenseman Ryan Olsen and forward Matt Garbowsky each netted a goal for Colorado, as well.
The first period began offensively enough for the Steelheads, tallying four shots on goal in the first three minutes of gameplay. It was the Eagles, however, that knocked Idaho on their heels defensively, with three straight Beaudin shots on net ending with his first goal of the night at 5:12 of the first period. In spite of Idaho’s suspect defense, the Steelheads offensive charge gave Idaho at 14-9 SOG advantage and only a 1-0 hole after one.
Period two is where the proverbial wheels fell off for the Steelies. 11 of the 18 game penalties took place in the middle frame of regulation, with Colorado going 2-for-6 on their power play chances. The Steelheads could barely generate offense on their man-advantage, letting Colorado have multiple shorthanded chances and going an anemic 0-for-5 on the power play for the second period.
Shots on goal were even for both teams at 13 apiece, but it was Colorado that took the most advantage of their pucks on net. The porous Idaho defense allowed three goals in the second segment of play, with Olsen and St. Amant netting one and two goals respectively for the Eagles. The 4-0 Eagles lead was enough for Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham to switch out Desrosiers for Tomas Sholl coming out of the locker room for period three.
The Steelheads forward pairing of French and Ully struck early in the third period, as French tapped in a rebound from a Ully wraparound attempt at 3:40 of the third. Another French tally at 17:29 of the third was the result of a two-on-one odd-man rush, where Ully passed the puck from left wing to right to a driving French for goal number two.
It was a Charlie Dodero turnover that set up a give-and-go play between Michael Joly and Beaudin just fifteen seconds later, with a Joly shot going wide of the net, and Beaudin catching Sholl out of position from behind the net to score his second goal of the night at 17:46 of the third. The Steelheads would allow a two-on-one breakaway goal from Harrison to Garbowsky to add insult to injury at 19:02 of the final frame of the regulation.
Idaho’s frustration boiled over in the final moments of game 2, as Steelheads forward Jack Nevins and Eagles defenseman Gabriel Verpealst were given ten-minute game misconducts at 19:56 of the third, as both men were penalized for continuing altercation. A Ryan Olsen cross-checking minor was assessed in the melee, as well, ending the game and potentially setting the tone as the series shifts back to Boise for a potential three-game tilt.
Game 3 will be at Centurylink Arena in Boise tomorrow night. Faceoff is set for 7:10 MT.