Fans and Players alike know that first impressions are important. The folks in the stands want to see their newest player become an instant contributor on the ice from the moment he hops off the bench, and a player wants to prove his worth and at the same time take some of the pressure off himself in his new surroundings. At the same time, fans are reasonable and players aren’t magicians. Surely there are some sensible limits to what both can expect in game number one in a new city.
Except, of course, for Radoslav Illo. He won over the fans at CenturyLink Arena very quickly with a standout performance in his first game in Boise.
Illo, playing his first professional season in North America after a four-year college career at Bemidji State, had 18 games under his belt with the Tulsa Oilers and Norfolk Admirals before arriving with the Steelheads in a trade on February 6th. Illo had three goals and six points in those 18 games, and the 2009 fifth-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks was expected to bring a shot of energy and depth to the Idaho lineup.
Illo brought much more than that in his first Steelheads game, a February 6th contest against the Alaska Aces.
The Steelheads defeated the Aces 5-2 , their eighth win in ten games in a battle that was back-and-forth all evening before two empty-net goals late gave the Steelheads breathing room. Until that point, the offensive engine was none other than the newcomer.
With the Aces already ahead 1-0 on an early goal by Davis Vandane, Illo got the Steelheads on the board at 7:18 of the opening period when he finished off a pretty feed from Shawn Boutin. Starting the play off in the left-wing corner, Illo dished a pass out to Corbin Baldwin at the blue line and drove to the net. After Baldwin moved the puck across to Boutin at the right point, Boutin zipped a hard shot-pass to the low slot where Illo was cutting across to redirect it past Troy Redmann to tie the game.
In the second period, after former Steelhead Daniel Johnston traded goals with Jake Rutt (his first career goal), it was Illo again muscling the eventual game-winner past Redmann.
Illo carried the puck into the offensive zone to the top of the right circle before drifting to the middle and powering a wrist shot off of Redmann’s glove, the puck fluttering into the air before rolling behind the Aces’ goaltender for a 3-2 Idaho lead.
By the end of the night, Illo had added an assist on Andre Morrissette’s empty-netter for a three-point night, a plus-3 rating, and four penalty minutes stemming from a tussle with Alaska’s David Eddy. Illo was involved in just a little bit of everything.
“It was all earned on hard work,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham following the game. “He out-raced a lot of pucks and had a few big blocks as well. He’s going to fit into our scheme right away.”
Illo would put up seven points in 19 games for Idaho, adding a goal and an assist in the playoffs.