Radoslav Illo was in town for less than 24 hours when he laced up his skates and pulled on a Steelheads sweater for his first game on Saturday night. If you’d never watched a Steelheads game before, you wouldn’t have known you were watching a player who did not even know the names of all his teammates yet.
“Anytime you’re going into a new room and new team, there are always new nerves and jitters. I thought he handled it like a pro, like he’d been doing it for years,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham, who acquired Illo from the Norfolk Admirals late Friday night. “He came in and was confident, and it’s a credit to the guys in our room because they’re a very welcoming group and they introduced themselves right away. You could see Rado was accepted right away and was bonding early.”
Illo did have two friends waiting for him when he got to Idaho, having played in Tri-City in the USHL with both Torin Snydeman and Andrew Panzarella. Yet by game’s end, and even in his post-game interview as the game’s first star, it was evident that the newcomer will make good use of this long practice week to get to know both his teammates and the X’s and O’s a bit better. That didn’t hold him up on Saturday, however.
“When a player comes in like that we don’t bombard that player and say ‘this is what we’ve been doing the last four months and you need to know it all.’ It’s day one, they’ll get there and pick up the systems, but come in and work hard and everything else will fall in line,” said Graham. “He made a great first impression and it started with his work ethic.”
Illo scored twice for the Steelheads in his debut, the first multi-goal game of his young career, and he did it showing off a full skill-set in Idaho’s 5-2 win over the Alaska Aces. Midway through the first period, Illo drove the Aces net presenting a perfect target on the ice for a sharp pass from Shawn Boutin. Illo deflected the pass behind goalie Troy Redmann for his first goal on his first shot as a Steelhead.
In the second period, Illo netted the eventual game-winner, carrying the puck over the Alaska blue line and drifting to the high slot before rifling a wrist shot past Redmann’s glove.
“The goals were great but regardless of the points, he played great. He was very good in the D-zone, he competed and created off the cycle, and he really fits in with what we do as a team,” said Graham. “For the player’s sake, to get a couple of goals early and relieve some of those nerves, it’s a great way to join a new team.”
Illo had just three goals as a member of the Norfolk Admiral earlier this season, but as a former fifth-round NHL Draft pick (Anaheim in 2009), he had the pedigree and talent to make an immediate impact.
The Slovakian forward was a fixture both offensively and defensively for Idaho, even getting significant shifts late in the third period when the Steelheads were protecting a one-goal lead. Not only did Illo lock things down, he also added an assist on an empty-net goal to cement the win.
“He is a hard-working and responsible hockey player. He can generate offense and he possesses a high skill-set, but at the end of the day he is a guy we can use on the power play and penalty kill,” said Graham.
Illo continues a positive trend for the Steelheads, who have gotten tremendous production from mid-season acquisitions this season. Between Zach Yuen, Kyle Jean, Jake Fallon, and Illo, all of whom were added since training camp, the Steelheads have received 16 goals and 51 points.
“Our goals are always to improve and get better. We’ve been able to add a few pieces without completely disrupting our room,” said Graham. “It’s been huge and the big thing is that the guys we have brought in are very good people and have the background of being leaders. When you bring good character like that into your room, all it does is help and it’s no surprise there is chemistry on the ice.”