The Idaho Steelheads are winners of three straight after Wednesday night’s offensive explosion against the Utah Grizzlies, an 8-5 win at CenturyLink Arena. They’re playing some of their best hockey of the season.
And they know it, too.
“I think we are developing that bond and a little bit of swagger where we know we’re a good team, and our record and the standings don’t necessarily reflect how good we think we are,” said Head Coach Neil Graham after Thursday’s practice.
“But now the key is that we have to back that up. We can’t just say we’re good and think we’re good and then play inconsistent. I think if you look at our last ten games, we’re starting to play consistent.”
The Steelheads scored eight goals in a game for the first time since January 3rd of last season, and they were the first team in the ECHL to rattle off eight straight goals in a game since Toledo accomplished the feat on February 21st of last season. But the Steelheads impressive play hasn't been restricted to one game or the pregame stat pack.
The Steelheads are 5-5-0 in their past ten games, playing what Graham calls a more cohesive style of hockey. But while the quality of Idaho’s play has clearly improved in December, the attitude behind it has changed as well.
That swagger manifested in their last few victories has been an ability to not just roll with the punches, but to throw a few the other way as well. In Allen on Sunday, the Steelheads answered the Americans’ physical tone by throwing some fists themselves and then followed that up with a few goals. Wednesday night, the Steelheads answered with their offense after a difficult first period.
“I think, more than anything, I was happy to see the push back from our group. Going down 4-0 it would be very easy to say that it’s not our night and to mail it in,” said Graham. “But that’s not the way our team plays. We said from Day 1 we’re a high character group and a very hard-working group, and there’s no quit in our room. The fact that the guys came back, came out extremely hard in the second and held each other accountable, and played our style of hockey, I take that as a positive.”
The Steelheads resilient attitude is working on a team level largely because it’s also showing results on individual levels. Steelheads veterans like Andrew Carroll and Carson McMillan are making bigger impacts in December, with Carroll scoring goals in back to back games and McMillan putting up three points on Wednesday night while playing an all-around faster game. The power play performers like Emil Molin and Jefferson Dahl have been crisp on a unit that has scored six goals over the past three games.
Andre Morrissette in particular has continued his solid work and is seeing some fruits for his labor.
“Morrissette has picked up a couple goals recently, and he’s a player that leads our team in shots. It hasn’t been for a lack of opportunity or trying, but sometimes pucks just don’t go in,” said Graham. “The fact that he’s stayed with it and battled, it‘s been great to see him get rewarded for hard work and dedication.”
This boost in confidence comes at a good time for Idaho, as they near the Christmas Break but prepare for a second half of the season with a heavy home schedule. The Steelheads know they will need CenturyLink Arena to be a dangerous building for visitors in order to climb back up the Western Conference standings, and their performance level on home ice since their December 4th win against the Florida Everblades has been markedly improved.
“It’s one of the things we talked about from training camp, that this be a tough place to play and coming into Idaho was going to be a tough night for opponents. The start of the year isn’t how we wanted to get off on home ice, but to push back last night and play hard, that’s what we want,” said Graham.
“We did whatever we had to do to get the win last night. I expect we’ll come out with a tighter game this Friday.”