BOISE, ID – The last two home games the Idaho Steelheads had played were against the Colorado Eagles on February 17 and the Allen Americans on March 7. Idaho defeated Colorado 5-4 in a thrilling shootout victory, while Allen bested Idaho 2-1 in a game that also went to a shootout.
As the Steelheads hosted Kansas City on Friday night, they took their third straight home game beyond regulation and into extra time.
Kansas City knocked Idaho back on its heels early, jumping out to a 2-0 lead after two periods before heading into the third. After a Justin Parizek shot took a wild bounce and was corralled by Brady Brassart for a goal, the Steelheads continued their push and tied the game 2-2 with a power-play goal from Eric Sweetman. Pushing the Mavericks into overtime, Cole Ully took full advantage of a sweeping right-to-left wing chance in Kansas City territory, burying a wrister by KC goaltender Adam Carlson to win the game for the Steelheads, 3-2.
Kansas City pushed Idaho to come back from a two-goal deficit after 40 minutes of strong play through periods one and two. Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham was impressed by the Mavericks structured style of play, giving the Steelheads a slight taste of their own medicine.
I thought they pushed the pace on us, Coach Graham confessed. That’s normally our game plan to come out fast and put teams on their heels and I thought we were on our heels a little bit. We still outshot them in the first, but their energy and pace of play was better than ours, and that was unusual for us.?
With Idaho on their heels out of the gate, defensive mistakes came early and often. Around the three-minute mark of the first period, Aaron Harstad placed a big hit on a Kansas City forward near Idaho’s blue line. The resulting over-commitment (and Harstad’s taunting) led to a goal which was immediately waved off due to goaltender interference. Turnovers by both Harstad and Eric Sweetman past the halfway point of the first also lead to significant scoring chances by Kansas City, but ultimately yielded no goals for the Mavericks through one.
The second period was more of the same for Idaho, as a turnover at 3:45 manifested the Steelheads struggles. After giving the puck away in Idaho territory, Harstad lost his edge in front of Steelheads netminder Michael Bitzer and came tumbling into the net, knocking it off its moorings in the process. Shortly before that sequence, a centering pass from Jordan Kwas through traffic to Troy Donnay lead to a Kansas City goal at 2:53 of the second and a 1-0 lead for the Mavericks.
After Idaho and Kansas City traded minor penalties back and forth midway through the second, KC’s Shawn Pauly found himself on a breakaway. After his initial chance was denied, Bitzer tried to cover the puck for a stoppage. Matt Robertson then poked the puck loose into the net, bumping the Mavericks’ lead up 2-0 at 15:22 of the second. The Steelheads recovered late in the second frame by increasing their physical presence (led by Steven McParland and Zach Bell) and generating more scoring chances by merely putting more pucks on net.
The third period brought out an invigorated Idaho squad, but also began with a jolt for the home team. Former Steelheads forward Corey Durocher rang a shot off the crossbar just 20 seconds into the third, getting the attention of Bitzer and everyone else in the arena. After taking the puck back into Kansas City’s zone, Parizek took a shot that was deflected high above, over, and behind the net. Brassart collected the puck quickly, wrapping around and placing the puck five-hole on an oblivious Carlson for Idaho’s first tally of the night at 2:26 of the third.
Continuing the fast-paced tone of the final frame, McParland initiated a fight with Kansas City’s Eric Freschi deep in Mavericks territory at 4:25 of the third. McParland’s heavy left hands pelted Freschi to the point where no offense was reciprocated, so the referees stepped in to stop the one-sided affair. Such a scrap added fuel to the already-stoked fire burning under the Steelheads in the third.
Idaho continued to pepper Carlson with quality shots on goal, giving the netminder another wake-up call after Will Merchant rang a shot off the post around the six-minute mark. After Kansas City’s Donnay went to the box for interference at 8:59, the Steelheads applied more pressure with two shots on goal from Ully and one from Jefferson Dahl. A pass from Brassart to Sweetman on the left side led to a slap shot (screened by a jumping Joe Faust), with the puck whizzing by Carlson and tying the game at two apiece at 10:45 of the third.
Taking it into overtime, the Steelheads dominated puck possession and didn’t allow Kansas City a shot on goal in the extra frame. The only shot from Idaho came from Ully, whose tally at 3:35 of OT made the game a 3-2 comeback victory. Mavericks netminder Adam Carlson made 34 saves in the losing effort.
Idaho plays Kansas City tonight at 7:10 pm to finish the two-game, weekend series in Boise.
News of Note:
– Tonight marked Michael Bitzer’s first professional game after being signed to an ECHL contract by Idaho on Wednesday, March 7. He had 17 saves on 19 shots faced in the win for Idaho.
“(My debut) felt good, Bitzer reflected. There were a couple shaky moments early, but I settled in. I thought the boys had a big effort, especially in the third period. The defense was great blocked a lot of pucks and forced shots to the outside and made my life pretty easy.”
The Bemidji State University product played 138 games in his collegiate career, going 65-54-19 and setting a WCHA record with 21 shutouts over a four-year span. He also earned 2016-17 Player of the Year honors, and was a finalist for both the Hobey Baker and Mike Richter Awards in 2017.
– Kansas City forward Corey Durocher made his return to Idaho after being traded to the Mavericks on February 12 by the Steelheads for future considerations. Durocher has been a great addition to KC, scoring four goals and helping with five assists in only nine games played. He had three shots on goal and a minus-1 on-ice rating in his return to Boise.
– Idaho returned from a six-game road trip over two and a half weeks time with two completely different goaltenders on the roster. Philippe Desrosiers and Carmine Guerriero were the active goaltenders for Idaho against Colorado on February 17. Tonight, Michael Bitzer and Tomas Sholl filled out the netminder positions on the depth chart.
Coach Graham: “You have to adjust in the ECHL. Desrosiers has played great this year, so for him to get an opportunity it’s been well earned. You never expect both goalies to be gone at the same time, but we made the trade to acquire Tomas Sholl, (and) he played very well Wednesday in his first game, making key saves at key times. Michael Bitzer it’s his first pro game he flies a crazy trip to get here, backs up on Wednesday, had one skate with the team, and then plays tonight. (He had) a little bit of nerves early, which happens, but then I thought he made some real key saves and started controlling rebounds. He made the important saves when we needed him to.”