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Steelheads 2015-16 Season Preview

Thursday, October 15th
Steelheads 2015-16 Season Preview

We’re just 24 hours away from the official return of the ECHL season and Idaho Steelheads hockey. There are some familiar faces back at CenturyLink Arena this season, but Friday night will feature a very different team than the squad that last took the ice in April.

Ex-head coach Brad Ralph has moved on and is now the head coach for the Western Hockey League’s Kelowna Rockets, the team’s top four scorers from last season are no longer on the roster, and there is an entirely new goaltending tandem between the pipes.

So before you head into Downtown Boise to watch the Steelheads take on the Rapid City Rush, let’s get to know the 2015-16 Steelheads a little bit better.

Size and Speed

The Steelheads have a familiar face in a brand new role behind the bench, as Neil Graham moves from the assistant coach’s office down the hall to the Big Chair. With Graham as head coach, along with new Assistant Coach Gord Baldwin, the Steelheads front office has already put an emphasis on one phrase echoed again and again- “size and speed.”

Graham wants a team that can throw its weight around and gets on opponents quickly, and we saw both during last weekend’s preseason games with a quick-strike forward group.  Across two games against the Utah Grizzlies, 14 Steelheads recorded at least a point.

Colton Beck returns after a strong second-half of his rookie season, in which he scored 13 goals and 28 points following the All-Star Break. He’s the leading scorer returning from last season, with Wade MacLeod, Alex Belzile, Jason Bast, and Brett Robinson all moving on in their hockey careers. Graham has done his best to replace that scoring punch, and he landed some promising producers in his first off-season.

Carson McMillan and Brandon Magee have skated on a line with Beck for much of training camp. Magee is in Idaho on an AHL contract signed in early October with the Texas Stars after collecting 264 points in 318 games in the Western Hockey League. McMillan, one of two veterans on the roster, has 16 games of NHL experience with the Minnesota Wild and scored five goals and 14 points in 22 ECHL games with Orlando last season.

While that line has the potential for high-flying speed and play-making, it was another line with a returning leader and a bit more sandpaper that had eye-opening success in the preseason. Rob Linsmayer plays a heavy game that has meshed nicely with Emil Molin and Taylor Peters, two players on NHL contracts that can work wonders with the space created by Linsmayer’s physical approach. The line combined for four goals and four assists in the team’s first preseason game.

The Steelhead blue line also offers no lack of speed and grit, with newcomers Daniel Johnston and returner Shawn Boutin eager and able to jump into the play and join the offense for Idaho and Corbin Baldwin and Andrew Panzarella providing a physical edge.

“Character Players”

With loads of potential on the Steelheads roster, there is also considerable youth. Ten players on the team qualify as rookies this season, including one of the team’s two goaltenders. Forwards Damian Cross, Chance Braid, and Quinn Smith have been skating together as a line for much of camp but will all be stepping on the ice for their first pro game when Graham inserts them into the lineup. Despite the impressive stints that Jake Rutt and Zack Kamrass had on the Steelheads blue line at the end of last year, they have combined for only 18 pro games. Cole Martin and Panzarella will play their first games.

With so many players adjusting to professional life simultaneously, they had each better be made of the right material. And they’d better have the right exerienced players around them.

Jefferson Dahl and Andrew Carroll have teamed up for much of training camp, joined on the wing by Andre-Bouvet Morrissette, to form one of the more potent scoring units for Idaho. Morrissette scored three goals in two games, and a fourth in a mock-overtime period. Dahl is one of the returning leaders after potting 34 points in 41 games last year for the Steelheads. Carroll returns for his second stint in Idaho after spending last season away from hockey to earn a Master’s Degree.

Together, the three forwards have played in 476 games (335 by Carroll), scored 105 goals, and posted 206 points.

Graham has been careful to bring in proven leaders with every move this off-season. Smith served as an assistant captain last year with Boston College, a program with a history and culture of success. Joe Basaraba and Tommy Fallen, both added via trade this week, were both captains at their respective college programs. In total five Steelheads have served as captain of their college or junior programs while eight have served as an assistant captain. Carroll served as an assistant captain as a Steelhead his last time around.

Between the Pipes

They say championships are built from the goal line out. The Steelheads have size up front to go along with speed and proven puck-movers on the blue line. Arguably the most decorated players on the team, however, may stand between the pipes.

Philippe Desrosiers and Eric Hartzell both head into their first season in Idaho with high expectations. Desrosiers is a 2013 second-round draft pick of the Dallas Stars and was named the CHL Goaltender of the Year last year in his final junior season with Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Hartzell has played parts of each of the past two seasons with AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, after earning just about every goaltending honor under the sun in his final season at Quinnipiac University. In 2013, Hartzell was the ECAC’s Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, a First-Team All-American, and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. In 2014, Hartzell was recognized by the AHL as one half of the league’s top goaltending duo, the Harry Holmes Memorial Award.

While Hartzell is only a third-year pro himself, he does have the experience and success to help a 20 year old Desrosiers get his feet underneath him at the pro level. As much as the Steelheads intend to inflict size and speed this year, final success will likely be determined as it almost always is, based on consistency in goal.

The Steelheads certainly feel their built the right way, from the goal line out.

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