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Returning Steelheads: “I expect them to be leaders.”

Tuesday, October 4th
Returning Steelheads: “I expect them to be leaders.”

When you’re trying to learn something new, it never hurts to have the guidance of someone who has seen it all before. As the Steelheads prepare to kick off their training camp with fitness testing on Wednesday morning, they have the benefit of welcoming back a wealth of players who know perfectly well what Steelheads hockey is all about.

Unlike last October’s training camp, which featured a handful of returning players but mostly new faces, the Steelheads built their roster this summer with important core players from the 2015-16 season. At each position, Head Coach Neil Graham can look to at least one player who carried an important workload for him last year.

The Steelheads retained seven players from last year’s squad, including three of their top four scorers, a third-year pro goaltender, and a defenseman who was recognized as the team’s top blue liner at the end of last season.

“It’s always important to have good people backing your message,” said Graham of his returners. “I expect them to be leaders.”

Goaltender Branden Komm, defensemen Zach Bell and Corbin Baldwin, and forwards Kyle jean, Jefferson Dahl, Rob Linsmayer, and Joe Basaraba all agreed to ECHL contracts this year, with some of those players attending AHL camps.

Players and fans will naturally look back at the successes of last season as reason to be eager for opening night. These returning players were key members of a team that was among the ECHL’s best squads in the second half of the season, one that pushed the eventual Kelly Cup champions to a deciding seventh game in the playoffs. Yet during the final exit meetings in April, player after player mentioned just how close the members of that team were and what a special locker room they had in Boise. Those bonds already formed help make the start of training camp an easy transition.

“We’ve all played on a lot of teams, but I think you always recognize when you have a special group,” said Komm, who joined the Steelheads midway through last season. “I think we recognized that at the end of last year. I think we’re all eager to come back and get off to a good start this year.”

Jean knows having that kind of a smooth transition can help a team start fresh in the early months of the season, but the good feelings in the Steelheads dressing room aren’t just because of friendly faces. This is also a group of players that watched the Allen Americans lift the Kelly Cup after the Steelheads had fought them tooth and nail beyond 60 minutes in an elimination game. Many Steelheads felt they were perhaps a bounce away from getting there themselves.

“We have a lot of the same core guys coming back. When you lose Game 7 in the first round and in overtime, it’s obvious that it could have gone either way,” said Jean, noting a loss like that stays in a player’s mind during the summer.

The core players expected to return are certainly important, but the Steelheads made other key summer additions that will be just as pivotal to success. Having an experienced group familiar with Graham’s game plan will be crucial in bringing new players up to speed, particularly during a training camp that will last only a week.

“It’s exciting having a core group of guys coming back who are familiar with the kind of game we want to play and comfortable in the systems with which we’ll try to do that,” said Assistant Coach Everett Sheen, a first year coach who will also benefit from having experienced players to help sell his message. “That’s huge in terms of getting other guys to buy in.”

“The more games and practice time you have, the more comfortable you’ll be. But every team is in the same boat,” said Dahl of the shortened camp. “Having more guys that know what’s going on, the learning curve isn’t as steep. The younger guys will have to pick it up on the fly, but that’s no different.”

Dahl is more qualified than most to help new players adjust, as is Rob Linsmayer should he return from camp with AHL Texas. This will be Dahl’s third year in Idaho, and he is coming off his best season while also creeping up the all-time Steelheads leaderboards.

“It’s a day-by-day process. This will be my third year here and just by knowing how things work you can help the younger guys,” said Dahl. “On the ice, it doesn’t change. I’m performing my role and playing the best I can while I try to help the guys around me.”

And so Wednesday morning the Steelheads are officially on the clock, working towards a new goal with a new crew and some important familiar faces. While the season is new, the goal remains very much the same. The Steelheads returning to their same dressing stalls at CenturyLink Arena want to keep that same familiar feeling alive.

“I think it’s big just to pick up where we left off, and with a good returning crew that will be easier,” said Komm. “It certainly looks like everyone has been working hard in the off-season and there are some talented new players here, so I think everyone is coming in ready to hit the ground running.”

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