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Newcomers competing, making "good first impression"

Thursday, October 6th
Newcomers competing, making "good first impression"

It certainly must be a whirlwind adjustment. A young man who just a few short months ago was an elder statesman and leader on his college campus or in his junior organization now sits in a stall in a professional dressing room preparing to battle for a job.

The Steelheads took to the ice at CenturyLink Arena on Thursday for their first practice of training camp, with a good chunk of the camp’s roster hitting the ice for the first time as professional hockey players. Men who are used to leading the way are now learning their way, while still putting their best foot forward.

“I’m a guy that works hard and tries to lead by example, but being a new guy I’m also trying to fit in and help the team in whatever role I have,” said forward Ryan Keller. “I look to have a strong work ethic during this camp to try to make this team. “

Keller is one of several accomplished rookies donning Steelheads jerseys for the first time. He played four seasons for a top college program at Michigan State University. He and others will have to adjust on the fly to new surroundings and new expectations from the coaching staff, but without changing the aspects of their game that earned them a trip to Idaho in the first place.

“I think hockey is hockey, but being the new guy you want to come in and make a good first impression,” said Keller. “You want to work hard and show you can make the other players around you better. I’m working hard every day and putting the extra time in to push myself to be a better player.”

Like last season, many of the newcomers brought in by Head Coach Neil Graham were selected not only because of their on-ice skill, but also because of their leadership pedigrees. Forward David Glen was the captain at Penn State University last season, and even wore an ‘A’ on his sweater during his sophomore and junior years. While players in camp may not be looking to him for guidance like they were in Happy Valley just yet, that character element is still part of what makes Glen successful.

Looking to impress the coaches in every facet every day could be overwhelming for young kids in camp, which is why it’s just as important that these young rookies relax and take things in stride.

“For me it’s a matter of playing my game and not putting too much pressure on myself,” said Glen. “I’m a guy who likes to play hard, win battles, and do the little things right. Just focusing on that and trying not to do too much, but focusing on what I do best is important.”

With their first practice behind them, both Glen and Keller quipped that they were happy to no longer need to run home after practice to finish their homework. Such are the perks in your first season of professional hockey. But it’s not just rookies who need to make their case to Steelheads management during this training camp.

Skating on a line with Glen on Day 1 of camp was Brian Nugent, already with three ECHL seasons under his belt and looking to solidify a spot in the Steelheads lineup. As a member of the Tulsa Oilers last season, Nugent is plenty familiar with the Steelheads’ brand of hockey under Graham. Unlike the rookies, Nugent is fully aware how his game translates to this Steelheads’ style and how he thinks he will be able to help them win games.

“Every time I’ve played Idaho, it always struck me as a skill team, an up-tempo and hard-working team,” said Nugent, who has played 166 regular season ECHL games. “As for myself, I know there are a lot of skilled guys but I think I can add a good element of speed, work-ethic, and some grit and solid play on both sides of the puck.”

While Nugent’s pro experience does give him perspective, he does not view it as an advantage in what will be a competitive camp. Nugent mentioned the pride he took in preparing himself physically for camp during the summer, and he was one of the top performers in Wednesday’s fitness testing.

“I think the fact that I’ve played a few years in the league, I don’t really take that into consideration. I consider myself to be fighting for a spot the same as these guys coming out of college and junior,” said Nugent. “You have to have that mentality and not take anything for granted.”

“Everyone here is competing for a spot in the lineup and I’m trying to come in and make a good impression and earn my shot based on what I do in camp and not what I’ve done in this league the last few years.”

One practice is already in the books for the newest tenants of CenturyLink Arena. New faces from all over the continent grow closer as they work together, sweat together, and learn together. Some are looking to continue their careers in a new home while others are hoping to see their names on the lineup card for the first time. All are pushing each other to get ready for the first exhibition game on October 10th, while at the same time competing with one another to be on that final roster that will head to Maverik Center for the ECHL’s Opening Night.

“Off the ice, we’re all friends. We’re just getting to know each other,” said Keller. “Once you get on the ice, you’re still teammates at the end of the day but you’re working hard and pushing each other and trying to make this team.”

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Friday, October 18th
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Friday, October 25th
Toledo Walleye @ Idaho Steelheads
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7:10 PM MDT
Idaho Central Arena
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