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Let’s Look Back: The Turning Point

Sunday, July 24th
Let’s Look Back: The Turning Point

No matter how badly things are going, those moments when you can’t catch a break and it feels like the entire world is working against you, sometimes it just takes one good night to turn everything around. For the Idaho Steelheads, the night that changed everything for the 2015-16 season came during the team’s first ever visit to Tulsa, Oklahoma.

It was December 11th and the Steelheads were soul-searching following a 4-2 loss the night before against the Oilers, a loss that dropped the team to last in the division and 12th in the conference. The Steelheads had lost in Allen a night earlier, and were 3-11-3 dating back to November 4th. Idaho was getting into must-win mode early, and a third game in three nights on the road was not a favorable schedule.

It didn’t matter, as the Steelheads put forth one of their grittiest performances of the year to change the course of their season.

The Oilers were not much different than the Steelheads at that point in the year, sitting eighth in the Western Conference but just two points ahead of Idaho, indicative of just how closely bunched the West was for much of the season.

Idaho found itself in an early hole when Brian Nugent put Tulsa in front just 5:21 into the first period, a shorthanded goal that could have taken the wind out of Idaho’s sails once again. The Steelheads needed a major lift, and they got it from a new face that was looking for a spark of his own.

Kyle Jean was playing his sixth game with Idaho. Jean was expected to be a big-time producer in Boise, and by season’s end he certainly was one of Idaho’s most dependable scorers. But after his first five games, Jean was still looking for his first point in a Steelhead uniform. He’d earn that point at 11:37 of the first period, teaming up with Andre Morrissette to tie the game at 1-1.

After Emil Molin forced a turnover at the Idaho blue line, Morrissette quickly turned the play the other way. Morrissette snapped a stretch pass to a streaking Jean, who snuck behind the Oiler defense and received the puck just as he crossed the Tulsa line. Barely onside, Jean drove in on a breakaway and lifted a backhander past goaltender Kevin Carr for his first goal as a Steelhead.

Oiler defenseman Aaron Harstad, sent down before the weekend from AHL Manitoba, put Tulsa back in front in the first minute of the second period with a right point blast. Harstad had scored from the same spot the night earlier, also in the first minute of the middle frame. Idaho answered back less than three minutes later, when Jefferson Dahl found a Tommy Fallen shot in his feet and flicked in his 10th goal of the season.

It wouldn’t be a defining character win without a defining character play, and in the third period the Steelheads seized their opportunity. With Maxime Lagace holding down the fort, making 23 saves on the night, the Steelheads put pressure on in the Tulsa zone and earned a power play when Ben Walker was called for holding. Matt Brisebois debated the call and was sent off for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving Idaho a full-length two-man advantage.

Heading into the night, the Steelheads were second-to-last in the league on the power play and had scored on only two of their prior 29 attempts. On this night, on their fifth try of the game, the power play would come up huge.

After a minute and a half spent firing pucks at Carr, Idaho broke through. Zach Yuen and Zack Kamrass manned the point for the power play and crisscrossed high in the Tulsa zone. With Yuen drifting left and Kamrass gliding to the top of the right circle, Yuen slid the puck over for a Kamrass one-timer that blew past Carr and gave the Steelheads a 3-2 with 12:53 to go, a lead they would not surrender.

It was Kamrass’ third goal of the season and second on the power play. A special teams asset, Kamrass’ other goal to that point came shorthanded just nine days earlier.

Corbin Baldwin’s empty-net goal sealed the win for Idaho and launched one of the team’s most impressive stretches of the season. The Steelheads would win four consecutive games and earn points in eight straight, going 7-0-1 during their best points streak all season.

The Tulsa win can be identified as the point from which the tides turned for the Steelheads. Idaho was in the top echelon of the league by April, going 31-10-6 the rest of the way and clinching a playoff berth for the 19th consecutive season. The Steelheads went from the bottom of the standings to within a point of a division crown, and the dramatic turnaround can be traced back to a gutsy third period and a clutch power play clapper from Kamrass.

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