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Steelheads all set for lengthy, important road trip

Tuesday, November 10th
Steelheads all set for lengthy, important road trip

Boise, ID (11/10/15)-- The Steelheads touch down in Orlando tomorrow night to kick off an important nine-game trip that will span 18 days, easily the longest road-trip for many of these young players in their pro careers.

But it’s not a new road-record for every member of the squad. And that veteran adventurer is able to put this trip in perspective as the Steelheads look to get back into the win column.

“I’ve been on a 23-day road-trip before, so it’s not the longest. I’ve been through it and I know what it’s like, and this one really isn’t that hard,” said Assistant Coach Gord Baldwin, whose team will have had four rest days before meeting the Solar Bears on Thursday night.

“We start with 3-in-3 but then we go Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. That’s a normal schedule for us. There’s opportunity for practice and rest, so being on the road for us can’t be a major excuse. It’s a chance for us to get some rest and excel.”

As much as 18-days away from home sound far from restful, Baldwin is right. The team will have ample rest time between each leg of the trip and can focus exclusively on hockey. The Steelheads have played good hockey on the road at 3-2-0 this season, and they can use that positive energy to get back in the win column after going winless in their last three at CenturyLink Arena.

“When you have those road games, it brings guys together a little bit better because guys are forced to be together. Guys are rooming together, they’re eating together. All you have is yourselves,” said Baldwin. “You don’t have your family; your family becomes your teammates. We have that chance to build as a group as well. There’s a lot of opportunity. It’s not just negative that we’re on the road. There are a lot of positives to it that will help us on the road and down the road.”

That simplification can help the Steelheads, who despite only picking up one point against Atlanta have played some pretty good hockey. The Steelheads have lost seven games this season in regulation or overtime, but five of those losses have been in one-goal games (or two goals with an empty-net).

“The results haven’t gone our way on the scoresheet, but I think we’re making gains with our young group,” said Head Coach Neil Graham. “We knew this wouldn’t happen overnight. We have a process, we have a game plan set in place, and we expect to grow and learn as a group together.”

That particularly applies to the Steelheads defensively, where the ‘young mistakes’ have cost them most. The Steelheads are averaging three goals  per game, factoring in two night’s during which they launched a combined 80 shots against Utah’s Ryan Faragher and Atlanta’s Kent Patterson and came away with two goals. It’s the one or two defensive zone mistakes that have ended up in the Steelheads net consistently and been the difference in those one-goal games.

A quiet Steelheads power play also had not helped matters for Idaho in the first month of the season, but that unit showed signs of life in the series with Atlanta. The Steelheads scored power play goals in three straight games, something that can certainly make up the difference for Idaho in tight contests over this roadtrip.

“Special teams are probably the biggest part of every game,” said forward Carson McMillan. “Our power play is going now and I think our PK has always been solid. Once we have them both going, we’ll get some wins.”

Those wins would certainly be handy at this point of the season. Despite a frustrating week in Boise, the Steelheads still find themselves in fine shape hovering around the .500 mark. They also have a loaded road schedule at the beginning of this season in addition to this trip. And if you’re spending a lot of time on the road at the start of the season, it means you’re going to spend a lot of time on home ice at the end of the season when playoff races are taking shape.

A strong roadtrip can serve as a tremendous momentum swing within the season, especially as we near that 15-20 game mark where the coaching staff believes a team’s identity finally starts to shine as a more polished product. If the Steelheads take care of business away from home, they can set themselves up nicely to come back to Boise and right the ship at CenturyLink Arena.

That’s not on Graham’s mind, however, nor is it on the minds of the players.

“Right now we’re worried about Thursday night. We can’t start thinking about any kind of numbers for this trip other than that we need to improve as a hockey team right now and we need to find a way to close the deal,” said Graham. “It’s not like we’re far off, but we need to find a way to put a stamp on the game, and when it’s in our hands we need to be able to hold it and finish it.”

Those efforts start Thursday in Florida, as the Steelheads play three games in three nights against a Solar Bears team that has scored five goals or more in four games and an Everblades squad that has scored four goals or more in five games.

Against two talented offenses, the Steelheads want consistency on defense. Forward Rob Linsmayer isn’t worried.

“Who cares how many goals they score a game. Let’s see what they do against Idaho.”

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