It didn’t take long for Jefferson Dahl to make up his mind on the Steelheads, nor for the team to make a final decision on him.
After Dahl tied for the team lead in goal-scoring and finished second in points during his second professional season, the inaugural winner of the Steelheads Hustle Award was certainly going to be a key piece of the 2016-17 roster. The two sides wasted little time, agreeing to terms on a deal that will bring Dahl back to Boise for a third season.
“With the whole atmosphere that the organization brings, I feel very comfortable here,” said Dahl, spending the summer in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. “Being around Coach Graham the last couple of years, I know what he brings to the table and how he likes to coach his team. I feel like I play the style that he wants his teams to play.”
That style made Dahl one of the league’s most difficult players to play against last season, with Dahl’s work in the corners and in front of the net making him one of the ECHL’s best power play converters with ten goals.
After his most productive offensive season since his high school days, Dahl is spending his summer building on those grunt-work qualities that have helped him take the next step as a pro hockey player.
“I think it’s just building on last year,” said Dahl. “The last couple of weeks I’ve been ratcheting it up, getting on the ice this past week and getting back into the groove. I’m looking to improve on muscle strength.”
Dahl notes that work in the weight room is especially important at the start of summer. The grueling pace of the regular season leaves less time to lift, and the early summer months are the time to rebuild some of that muscle mass. Later in the summer, the work on the ice picks up dramatically.
“By August I’m usually trying to ratchet it up to three or four times a week (on the ice). By September you want to be skating five times a week, not necessarily long but just handling the puck and getting your legs back in game shape,” said Dahl.
In past summers, Dahl was back in Madison where he played four years at the University of Wisconsin. During those summers, he would skate and train with players and other alumni of the Division I program. This summer, at home in Eau Claire, Dahl has a different training group.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire is one of the strongest Division III programs in the country, winning a National Championship in 2013. Dahl has been skating with members of that program in town for the summer, as well as a collection of junior and high school players that compose a group of about 20 skaters. Dahl also has another special workout partner.
“The cool thing is my brother is here, too, getting ready for his senior season at St. Lawrence,” said Dahl, his brother Alexander recently named to the ECAC All-Academic Team for last season. “It’s been fun to get on the ice with him, too.”
As Dahl gets ready for training camp in just a couple of months, he will certainly be coming back to a team that will value his leadership. Dahl finished last season as an assistant captain and will have a chance to climb the Steelheads historical leaderboards. Heading into October, Dahl ranks just outside the top-10 rankings in all major offensive categories in Steelheads history.
“I just try to do what I do on a daily basis and stay within myself,” said Dahl. “When that includes a leadership role, I’m happy to do it, but I’m just playing my game and trying to be one of the hardest workers out there.”
That approach to the season can also be joined by a sense of unfinished business. Dahl was one of Idaho’s best players all season long, but an upper-body injury in the final week of the season cut his campaign short and had him in the stands for the playoff series against the Allen Americans.
“It was tough sitting in the stands. You work all summer and then play 72 games just to get to the playoffs,” said Dahl. “And then to play in almost every game and then have to miss the most exciting part of the year was tough. But it’s a motivating factor that has me excited for this year.”
With that motivation, Dahl is setting the bar higher.
“Looking at some of the signings coming in and talking to coach, it’s exciting. We should have a very good team, one that can skate and score,” said Dahl.
“I think we’ll have a good shot at a deep playoff run at the end of the year, but it starts with Day 1 and it’s a process throughout the year. I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”