After splitting their first two games of the season at CenturyLink Arena, the Idaho Steelheads were airborne on Tuesday and off to Alaska to face their divisional rivals, the 1-2-0 Aces. The Aces are wrapping up a six-game homestand with these three games against Idaho at Sullivan Arena, where the Steelheads were 2-3-0 last season (8-4-0 vs Alaska overall).
The Aces edged the Missouri Mavericks for a 3-1 win on Friday night in their home opener with a goal in each period. The offense dried up for the Aces over the next two games, shut out on Saturday in their second game and then for most of their third game on Sunday as well, before Landon Oslanski’s third period goal snapped a drought of 118:36.
Despite the light offense, the Aces did get some pretty solid goaltending from over two starts, Troy Redmann has a save-percentage of .957. He posted a 2.78 goals-against average and .913 save percentage last season.
Justin Breton, who had 10 goals and 20 points last year for the Aces in his rookie season, leads the Aces with two goals in two games. The Aces’ top seven scorers from last year’s squad are no longer with the team.
The Steelheads are 68-46-12 all-time against the Aces, and look to extend that with a quick-strike offense featuring Andre Bouvet Morrissette (0-4-4) and Jefferson Dahl (2-2-4), both tied for second in the ECHL in scoring.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Defenseman Cole Martin is off to a torrid start to his pro career on the blue line, scoring goals in each of his first two games and posting a plus-6 rating. While Martin claims to have been more of a defensive-minded player last season, he did put up 39 points for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets and was active jumping up in the play all weekend against the Rapid City Rush.
Martin is the first Steelhead defenseman since the team joined the ECHL to score a goal in each of his first two pro games.
ACE TO WATCH
Forward Justin Breton has been among Alaska’s most effective forwards in the first three games. Not only does he lead the team with two goals and a plus-2 rating, but he also leads the team with 13 shots on goal. The Aces play on the Olympic ice sheet, meaning there’s a lot of room to roam for Breton. Look for the Steelheads to lock down on the former Bentley University star, as well as Joe Perry, who had 26 goals last season for Quad City and is still looking for his first this year despite firing ten shots in three games.
Scoring wasn’t an issue for the most part in the Steelheads’ first two games of the season, racking up nine goals against Rapid City and stretching the ice in a run-and-gun, heavy pressure style. They’ll have every opportunity to do that in Alaska, and with a lot more ice to work with. It’s the defensive zone where the Steelheads experienced a slight setback against the Rush in the third period Saturday, and Head Coach Neil Graham spent much of Monday practice addressing that. So now the Steelheads look to respond in the defensive zone and apply those new lessons to a bigger ice sheet and a team that has struggled to score goals in its first three games. Look for a quick transition game and for the Steelheads to focus on keeping Alaska as wide as possible. Usually it’s most important for the Steelheads to win the battles along the boards, but this week the positional battle between the dots is even more important.