With the month of February in the books and ECHL teams pushing towards the playoffs, I figured now would be a good time as any to tackle a concept not foreign to minor league hockey fans: players on an AHL or NHL contract that get called up. It is bound to happen when players spend time between the ECHL and AHL, and the depth of a team’s roster can oftentimes make or break a postseason push.
The Steelheads have been graced with a phenomenal affiliation with the NHL’s Dallas Stars and AHL’s Texas Stars, with the Dallas ties going back to 2005 (nearly a lifetime in ECHL affiliation years). However, a number of players with AHL or NHL contracts have been called up from the Idaho Steelheads to the Texas Stars since the calendar rolled over to 2019. In fact, it seems forwards in particular have been vanishing from ECHL Idaho to AHL Texas faster than you can say, “Texas Two-Step”.
IF I MAY BE SO FORWARD…
The first forward to head back to The Lone Star state was Tony Calderone on January 3. In 18 games played for the Steelheads, Calderone netted six goals and eight assists for 14 points total. Texas then sent center James Phelan to Idaho on January 5 for two games before being re-assigned back to the Stars on Jan. 7. AHL-contracted centerman Robbie Payne, having played with Idaho from December 8-23, 2018, returned to the Steelheads from the Stars on January 9 before leaving soon after on January 15. Payne’s point-per-game average this season (5G+4A in 9 GP) has no doubt helped Idaho; the team went 7-2 with him in the lineup, including a three-game home sweep of Toledo during his January stay.
The stalwart AHL-contracted forwards for the Steelheads this year have been none other than Brad McClure, Spencer Naas, and Elgin Pearce. All three have played over 40 games for Idaho this season, and the prolific trio have each registered at least 20 points in those 40-plus games. Here’s a quick breakdown of each skater’s ECHL stats for 2018-19 thus far (stats accurate as of February 28):
- McClure: 42 games played, 19 goals and 20 assists for 39 points total, plus-eight rating
- Naas: 41 games played, 11 goals and nine assists for 20 points total, plus-three rating
- Pearce: 42 games played, 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points, plus-five rating
WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO?
Of all the forwards previously named, only Pearce still remains on the Steelheads roster heading into March. McClure was called up to Texas on February 3, and Naas rejoined Idaho on January 7 before heading back to Cedar Falls on February 11. The Steelies lost three straight to Utah after McClure’s departure, but recovered by winning four out of the next five games. Idaho then lost to Tulsa (5-1 on February 23) and Kansas City (4-3 on February 27) to finish with a 6-5-1 record for the month.
PROACTIVE INSTEAD OF REACTIVE
Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham is notorious for recruiting players in the offseason (and beyond) to fill out his roster in preparation for moments like these. For example, center Henrik Samuelsson was loaned to AHL Rockford last season by the Steelheads on February 12, 2018. Samuelsson signed an AHL contract with the IceHogs in the 2018 offseason, and after playing 40 games for Rockford this season, he was loaned back to Idaho on February 12, 2019. As of February 28, he has four goals and two assists for six points total in seven games played.
THOSE THAT REMAIN
The Steelheads are definitely not hurting for quality forwards in spite of the AHL call-ups. And, with the February 27 activation of third-year ECHL vet Connor Chatham from injured reserve, Idaho only looks to get better as they push towards the playoffs. Here’s a look at the active forwards* on the Steelies roster as of March 1:
|FORWARD||GAMES PLAYED||GOALS||ASSISTS||TOTAL POINTS||+/-|
* – Left Winger Kale Kessy is currently on a PTO with AHL Colorado
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Idaho (33-19-4) currently sits atop the Mountain Division standings (and is fourth place in the league overall) with 70 points. Tulsa (31-20-6) and Utah (31-18-6) are tied for second place in the division, each with 68 points. The Steelheads face fourth place Kansas City (28-21-4) for two more road games Friday and Saturday night (March 1 and 2) before heading back to Boise to host the Wichita Thunder for a three-game set on March 6, 8, and 9.