BOISE, Idaho – The last time the Idaho Steelheads played at CenturyLink Arena, the team found themselves stuck with a close-but-no-cigar 5-4 loss, going down 2-0 in their first-round series with the Allen Americans. That was a Saturday…April 14, to be precise.
Ten days later, Idaho has scratched and clawed their way from a 3-0 series hole to force a Game 7 in Boise.
Idaho defenseman Shane Hanna had two goals, as four other Steelheads tallied scores behind a convincing 6-3 Game 6 victory over the Allen Americans. Joe Faust, Cole Ully, Max French, and A.J. White rounded out the scoring for Idaho; Joel Chouinard, David Makowski, and Spencer Asuchak accounted for the three Allen goals on Tuesday night.
Hanna was quick to heap praise on his teammates over his stellar individual performance:
“We’re playing the right way right now, and that’s the biggest thing. Our guys are just selling out; we want to win. We want it so bad, so we’re doing all the little things: we’re blocking shots, we’re boxing out, (our goalie) is seeing pucks very well, and he’s just doing a great job for us.”
The uncharacteristic Games 1 and 2 here in Boise stand in stark contrast to the dominating Game 6 witnessed by 3,120 fans in attendance tonight. The offensive explosiveness and defensive clamp-down exhibited was reminiscent of how the Steelheads played all season long. Idaho had been slowly reclaiming that previously-held identity through Games 4 and 5, as well, culminating in the six-goal effort for tonight’s victory.
Head Coach Neil Graham was succinct in his post-game evaluation:
“I thought the effort was good…I thought the buy-in was good…we had a game plan, and I thought the guys really executed it well. Obviously, it was big in a do-or-die game.”
Allen has been defined by quick starts this series, getting the first goal in each of the first five games against the Steelheads. Tonight, though, Idaho changed the tide with Hanna’s 1-0 goal at 3:02 of the first. Faking a slap shot from the high left wing, Hanna shook past his defender, leading to a wrister by Allen goaltender Jake Paterson and into the twine behind him.
Allen’s Chouinard answered just over five minutes later at 8:44 of the first, taking advantage of a turnover deep in Idaho territory and evening the score up at one goal apiece. In turn, the Steelheads retaliated after finding themselves on their second power play of the night midway through the first. Joe Faust netted his first goal of the playoffs a mere six seconds into the man advantage at 11:09, taking a shot from the point through traffic that found a window over Paterson’s right shoulder, returning the Steelheads to a one-goal lead.
Staying with the tit-for-tat motif, Allen’s Makowski made Idaho pay for yet another turnover in their defensive zone, taking a scorching slap shot off an errant clearing attempt and putting it by Idaho netminder Philippe Desrosiers, making it 2-2. Idaho was back again to answer, as a Charlie Dodero blast from the blue line was deflected by French to the left wing. Cole Ully was there to net the rebound opportunity, adding a goal to his eventual series-leading six assists at 18:39 of the first frame.
The back-and-forth chess match that typified the first period did not extend to the second. Idaho dominated the second period, bolstered by a Max French power play goal 88 seconds in and phenomenal goaltending from Desrosiers during a 5-on-3 Allen power play. The fire was evident in “Rosie” as he kick-saved numerous shot attempts from Allen time and again around the six-minute mark of the second, culminating in icing the puck on a wrist shot before leaving his crease to amp up the already-electric home crowd.
French continued his middle frame momentum by driving to the net and placing a shot on Paterson around the 8:50 mark, creating a rebound to the left of the four-year ECHL vet. Shane Hanna notched his second goal of the night on a backhand try from said rebound, putting the Steelheads up 5-2 at 8:58 of the second.
French did lose his cool by slashing an Allen player’s stick from his hands at 11:35, but subsequently exited the box for a breakaway attempt two minutes later. Being dragged down by an Allen defender on his way to the net, French was awarded a penalty shot at 13:43. Paterson stood tall against the West Kelowna, BC native, denying French’s chance for a second goal of the period and the game.
Idaho added another insurance goal late in the third period from a Connor Chatham centering pass tipped in by A.J. White at 16:23. Buzzing off of the four-goal lead, the crowd didn’t seem to notice Allen’s Spencer Asuchak tally another failed Idaho clearing effort that was gleaned off a rebound in front of Desrosiers, just thirty seconds later. The goal was inconsequential in the grand scheme of things; Idaho coasted through the last three minutes of gameplay comfortably (and just a couple of minor penalties) from the frustrated Americans.
The ECHL’s first Game 7 in the 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs will take place tomorrow night, with Idaho hosting Allen one more time. The puck drops at 7:10pm MT / 8:10pm CT.
Head Coach Neil Graham
Idaho Defenseman Shane Hanna
News of Note
Idaho looks to become the second team in fifteen years to come back from down 3-0 in a series to win 4-3.
The only squad to accomplish this?
The Cincinnati Cyclones, who defeated the Reading Royals 4-3 after being down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010.
Their opponent in the Kelly Cup Finals that year? The Idaho Steelheads.