BOISE, Idaho – Sixteen combined minor penalties, one major infraction, and another close game to finish a three-game series in the City of Trees.

The Idaho Steelheads defeated the Toledo Walleye by a score of 5-3 Saturday night, completing the sweep of the Ohio-based hockey club after three matches in four days at CenturyLink Arena Boise. This comes after Toledo defeated Idaho twice earlier in the season (November 2 and 3) at the Huntington Center, giving each team undefeated records at home against one another this year.

Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham:

“It’s very tough, especially in our division when you play the same team three times in a week, to pull off three wins. Everyone in our league is well-coached; teams will adjust structurally, so anytime you can do that, it’s important. You’ve got to tip your hat to our guys in the room. We had to make some slight tweaks each day, and our guys bought in. They were going to do whatever it took to get the points necessary.”

The penalty-laded affair wasn’t all just bruising bodies, as both squads together forced 79 shots on goal (42 to 37, Idaho) and eight tallies combined. Toledo goaltender Pat Nagle stopped 37 of 41 shots faced for a .902 save percentage in the loss. Idaho rookie netminder Colton Point, picking up his first win since November 17 against Rapid City, earned the win on 34 saves on 37 shots faced (.919 SV%). Point also held Toledo scoreless for the final 28 minutes of regulation, as well.

Eighteen of Idaho’s 28 penalty minutes on the night came from forward Kale Kessy, whose four minor infractions and one major misconduct call stemmed from the Saskatchewan native’s desire to fight early on. After checking a Toledo player into their own bench and garnering an elbowing call in the first nine minutes of the game, Kessy then came to the aid of teammate Nolan Gluchowski after Walleye forward Hunter Smith ran through Gluchowski with his stick between his legs. Kessy dropped the gloves after shoving Smith around behind Idaho’s net, but Smith did not bite, earning Kessy an unsportsmanlike conduct call at 9:30 of the first.

Steelheads forwards Robbie Payne (13) and Steve McParland (15) celebrate after Payne’s tip-in goal started off their scoring against the Toledo Walleye Saturday night. Photo Credit: Noah Saucerman Pitts / The Sin Bin

Before Kessy’s impassioned desire to fight Smith came to a head, Steelies center Robbie Payne tipped in a Geoff Crisfield blast from the blue line to put Idaho on the board first at 6:17 of the opening frame. Toledo was quick to respond, overloading Point in front of the Steelheads net just seconds later. With Point out of position, Smith smacked the puck into the net to tie the game at 1-1 at 6:46. Kessy’s aforementioned two-minute minor yielded a Walleye power-play goal at 11:13 of period number one, with winger Dylan Sadowy wristing an undeflected shot through traffic to put Toledo up 2-1.

Before the first frame ended, Reid Petryk used some after-burner speed to knot the game back up at two apiece. Darting down the right side of Toledo’s zone, Petryk went from forehand to backhand in a smooth transition to beat Nagle blocker-side at 14:31. Immediately after his shot, Petryk tripped over Nagle’s right leg pad, diving in a Bobby Orr-esque fashion before sliding into the left wing corner.

Idaho continued pressing on Toledo during a four-on-four opportunity to start the second period. With a setup pass from captain A.J. White, Gluchowski planted a wrist shot bar down above Nagle’s shoulders for his fifth goal of the season at 1:51 to put the Steelheads back up, 3-2. Almost ten minutes later, Walleye forward Justin Kea evened the score up yet again with an easy doorstep goal on the power play at 11:41 of the second segment. The Steelheads responded at 14:59 with a power-play goal of their own, coming from Czech defenseman Ondrej Vala on a wrister from the left wing.

Idaho defenseman Ondrej Vala (center) celebrates with his Steelheads teammates after scoring the first home goal of his professional career. Photo Credit: Noah Saucerman Pitts / The Sin Bin

The Steelheads’ defense clamped down in the third period with the one-goal lead, allowing only six Walleye shots on goal before potting an empty-netter (from forward Spencer Naas) at 1:18 of the ending regulation frame. The defensive effort and the ability to close out games has been something Idaho has improved upon since the beginning of the year, after 13 of their first 15 games were decided by one goal.

“(We ramped it up) 100 percent,” Gluchowski exclaimed. “You can come into a locker room after a period like that, let alone a series like that, and everyone can feel good about themselves. That’s huge going into next week.”

POINTS FOR VALA

Ondrej Vala scored his first professional goal against Tulsa on January 5, just four games before tallying his first pro home goal Saturday evening against Toledo. The Dallas Stars-contracted defenseman has three points in his last five games, clearly more comfortable in his role the past ten straight games and twenty games total for the Steelheads this season. A big part in his adjustment is his defensive pairing with fellow rookie defenseman, Nolan Gluchowski.

“We have a good chemistry,” Vala stated. “I live with him, (so) we are together a lot. He’s a good guy, I like him. And, he’s a pretty skilled defenseman, so I like to play with him.”

BUSTING OUT THE BROOMS

Idaho has had series sweeps against four clubs so far this regular season: a two-game set against Jacksonville in Boise, a three-game homestand against Kansas City, a three-game road set against Rapid City, and now a three-game home series against Toledo. All four sweeps came within the last 45 calendar days, with the Steelheads going 14-2-0 during that time span. Idaho (23-11-3) is currently first place in the Mountain Division with 49 points, slightly ahead of Tulsa (21-12-6) and Utah (22-9-4), who are tied for second with 48 points.

NEXT GAME UP FOR IDAHO

The Steelheads will play the Allen Americans for the first time this year on Wednesday night. Allen (11-27-2) is currently last in the Mountain Division with 26 points, but have shown promise since late December, taking one out of two games against Utah (December 29 and 30) and going 3-2-0 since then. Idaho will take their three-game series against Allen into the ECHL All-Star Classic weekend, facing off against the Americans on January 16, 18, and 19 before the ECHL All-Star Game on Monday, January 21, when Idaho faces Utah on the road at the Maverik Center.

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