(Boise, Idaho) - The Idaho Steelheads took to the ice at CenturyLink Arena on Monday afternoon, kicking off the 2015-16 season with training camp. 21 players took to the ice, after going through pre-camp fitness testing at Muscle Pharm earlier in the day. There are plenty of new faces on the roster, with 13 players hitting the ice at CenturyLink Arena for the first time as Steelheads.
Colton Beck, Jefferson Dahl, Rob Linsmayer, Shawn Boutin, and Jake Rutt have all returned from last year, as well as goaltender Chris Rawlings. Veteran forward Andrew Carroll is back with the Steelheads, after sitting out the 2014-15 season to focus on his education. Carroll was a Steelhead for 36 games during the 2012-13 season. James Isaacs was also back in a black Steelheads practice jersey, skating for the Steelheads for the first time since playing 58 games for Idaho between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
- The Steelheads have a brief window between Monday’s practice and their October 16th opener against the Rapid City Rush, a short time to teach systems, test line combinations, and develop chemistry with new teammates. Even so, there’s only so much you can cover on day one, when getting acclimated to a new group is its own challenge. Where Head Coach Neil Graham pulled back on systems work, he added skill work.
Monday was a free-flowing, up-tempo workout, with many of the drills focusing on quick transition breakouts for the defensemen and shots off the rush for the forwards. Players emphasized speed and clean passes as they again got used to the feel of the puck.
“For a lot of the guys in the current group, their first camp of the summer is this camp. A lot of guys in our camp at the moment haven’t gone through an AHL camp,” said Graham following his first practice as a head coach. “It was important to use today as a bit of a rust removal and to try to keep the tempo up and play with speed right from the get go.”
“Guys were moving and I thought it was a good first day.”
The Steelheads also played some small ice games, playing short 3-on-3 drills in the corners and in the neutral zone that force players to think quickly and create in tight space.
- Graham is relying on his returning players, those whom he coached as an assistant in Idaho last season, to play a leadership role on the ice this week, both to help new teammates adjust but also to maintain the consistent tempo in practice.
“Everybody is excited to be here, and everyone wants the season to start,” said Boutin, a Steelhead for 29 games last season. “It’s a good group of guys so far, and that’s important.”
- Monday morning’s fitness testing included six stations for players, testing upper and lower body strength as well as endurance. Though each test is important, it was clear which exercise was the greatest challenge.
“The shuttle run was a bit hard, but it’s always fun to do it as a team,” said Boutin.
The shuttle run was a 300-yard timed sprint, running back and forth between cones that were 25 yards apart a total of 12 times. That was followed by a brief 45 second rest before the player did it again. It’s one of those tests where a player leaves it all on the track, or ‘empties the tank’ as teammates shouted from the sides as they watched.
“Everybody has to go through it and everyone has each other’s back. It’s more fun to do it as a team than by yourself,” said Boutin.
“We want to see where guys are,” said Graham of the morning test. “Whether or not that dictates someone making the team or not is yet to be seen. It’s more about setting the precedent for how we do things here in Idaho. We started with a hard day of testing and a good practice. We kept guys going hard on the first day.”