The Idaho Steelheads are back to game action with the preseason opener Monday night at Utah’s Olympic Oval, the first of back-to-back match-ups with the Utah Grizzlies. These teams will be seeing a lot of each other in the month of October, with four battles scheduled to open the season following their exhibition tune-ups. The final rosters are still to be decided for both squads before the October 14th opener, and Monday night’s match-up will feature a handful of players looking to make their best case for a permanent spot in Idaho.
Right into the Action
The Steelheads expanded their rosters with some familiar faces Sunday, with a number of players from last year’s team rejoining the Steelheads after visits to training camp in AHL Texas. Most of those players will not dress for Monday night’s game, but fans can expect forward Anthony Luciani to get his first look in an Idaho sweater. The sixth-year pro has scored 83 goals and added 104 assists while being nearly a point-per-game player in the ECHL. Also expected to get an immediate look is rookie defenseman Travis Walsh, a Michigan State alum who joined the Steelheads on Sunday.
First for Faust
Corbin Baldwin was one half of one of the league’s most dominant shut-down defense pairings last season, and the Steelheads feel they may have a few more lockdown lynch pins on their blue line this year. Defenseman Joe Faust, playing his first year in Idaho, is expected to play Monday. Faust has proven himself to be a solid defender for two years in the AHL and ECHL, and he has spent some time alongside Baldwin in the first week of practice. Of course pairings and line-mates are yet to be decided, but it will be interesting to monitor what situations Faust is used in during his first action.
Kyle Jean and Jefferson Dahl are expected to dress for the Steelheads, as is Baldwin and goaltender Branden Komm. These returning players from the 2015-16 squad have been in this brief camp from Day 1, and Head Coach Neil Graham has already commented on their leadership. With a lineup that will feature a number of rookies and newcomers fighting for spots, the stability provided by those returning players will be key. The team has learned a lot of information in a short period of time, and with every player looking to make a good impression in their first taste of game action, it will be up to those returners to get things on track in the preseason.
About the Grizzlies
The Utah Grizzlies have undergone some substantial changes in the off-season. Last year’s scoring threats in Matt Berry, Ryan Hayes, and Alex Krushelnyski are gone, as is Barry Almeida and Charles Sarault. Still, as you move to the back end you see more familiar faces like defensemen Tim Daly and Phil Pietroniro and Ryan Faragher between the pipes. Forward Mathieu Aubin missed the entire 2015-16 season after injuring himself in last season's exhibition games against Idaho. He's on the ice for Utah once again.
One of the new faces to keep an eye on for the Grizzlies is goaltender Kevin Boyle, a rookie out of UMass-Lowell. The Grizzlies had inconsistency in net last season when without Faragher. Adding Boyle, Hockey East’s Goaltender of the Year in 2016, could be a key addition to form a tough tandem in the Grizzlies’ crease.