BOISE, Idaho – C.C. Hawkley here, covering the beloved Idaho Steelheads franchise that has never missed the postseason and currently holds the North American professional hockey record for most consecutive trips to the playoffs at 21 years and counting. And, while I’ve been fairly diligent in presenting game recaps and the occasional feature piece this past year covering the Steelies, this will be my first true opinion piece for The Sin Bin.
In their first five games this year, Idaho has had the tendency to drag their skates, allow a plethora of shots on goal, and get down a goal or two in the first period. Although concerning, I would recommend any worried Steelheads fans to take my advice and do the following…
Take it easy.
Take a chill pill.
Take a deep breath.
Count to ten.
And…wait for the next 67 games to play out.
Are You Gellin’?
With only one returning defenseman from last year in Eric Sweetman, the defensive corps is understandably taking a little time to build rapport, especially with more than half of them being rookies. The forward lines are still gelling as well, with new AHL-caliber talent like Brad McClure, Spencer Naas, Joe Pendenza, and Kyle Schempp continuing to mesh with returning forwards Justin Parizek, Steve McParland, A.J. White, and Connor Chatham.
I’ll elaborate more on the defensive pairings to try and ease some worries. Sweetman has been in tandem with rookie Clint Lewis to start the year, with both d-men working out their kinks on the ice. Sweetman has just one assist and a minus-three rating in five games, while Lewis has no points and a minus-one rating in five games. The line of Keegan Kanzig and Brady Norrish, who I affectionately call the “Five and Dime Blue Line” (because their player numbers are five and ten), are having more success. The bruising Kanzig has been a solid defensive presence, while the rookie Norrish leads all team defensemen with two goals and two assists. Fairly new addition, Jeff King, has carved out a nice start with the Steelheads after only two games, netting a plus-two rating and dropping the gloves with Utah’s Tim McGauley in Saturday night’s 2-1 loss to the Grizzlies. On loan from the AHL’s Texas Stars, defensemen Nolan Gluchowski and Ondrej Vala have a minus-three and plus-one rating, respectively.
Meet the New Season…Same as the Last Season!
Now, let’s compare and contrast this year’s first five games to the first five of last season to hopefully further ease the collective mind of the Treasure Valley faithful, shall we?
Last season, Idaho split the opening two-game weekend against a visiting Norfolk Admirals team (Oct. 13 and 14, 2017) while also taking one of two games against the Grizzlies in Boise the following week. Another loss on the road against Utah gave Idaho a 2-2-1 record with five points earned. A jaunt out to Moline, Illinois on October 27 and 28 led to shootout and overtime losses to the Quad City Mallards, extending Idaho’s losing streak to four games before winning at home against the Colorado Eagles on Nov. 1, 2017.
This season, Idaho started off on a three-game road trip, losing to Wichita 3-2 in a shootout loss while splitting two games with Tulsa. Coming back to CenturyLink Arena Boise, the Steelies then took one of two home games against the Utah Grizzlies in a 6-5 overtime victory and 2-1 nail-biting loss. As they head into a six-game road trip to Salt Lake and the Midwest, the Steelheads boast a 2-2-1 record…and five points.
Jumping to Conclusions
I understand that falling behind 2-0 in four out of five games (and 3-1 to Utah in the fifth) gives serious heart palpitations to Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham and anxiety to the fans, too. It doesn’t help that each of the first five games has been decided by one goal, or that Idaho has yet to lead in regulation thus far this season. All valid points of concern.
At this level of professional hockey, development and instilling good systems play is key. Turnover in the ECHL is often high from season to season, simply because there are so many routes players take after each year and the limit of only signing players to one-year contracts.
With all that in mind, know that it is a long season and there is a lot of hockey left to be played…and that the Steelheads were literally in this exact same place just a year ago.