While most people spend the summer months slimming down for beach season, the Idaho Steelheads decided to put on a few extra pounds during the off-season. And a few extra inches, too.
It’s a bigger line-up in Boise than last year to start the season, with six players measuring in over 6-foot-4 inches tall, and eight players who are at least 6-foot-2. That also includes two towering goaltenders in Henri Kiviaho and Landon Bow.
Heading into opening night on Friday in Utah, the Steelheads are on average one of the biggest teams in the ECHL.
“Last year’s team wasn’t a small team by any stretch. Maybe we were a little smaller on the back end, but we played a heavy game up front,” said Head Coach Neil Graham. “That’s something I liked, so that’s why we went after it again. We were able to get bigger, which is a bonus.”
Of course, size isn’t everything. Jefferson Dahl was the Steelheads second-leading scorer last season and leading power play producer at 5-foot-10. Newcomer Anthony Luciani is the shortest player on the team and is nearly a point-per-game player in his ECHL career.
As Neil Graham says, size only matters if you know what to do with it, something defenseman Kyle Bigos echoed.
“I think height can be a big factor, especially on defense,” said Bigos. “If you’re able to take up a lot of room, if you have a big wingspan with your arms and your stick, it will keep a lot of forwards at bay and gives you a little more time to stall the rush.”
Bigos used fellow teammate Corbin Baldwin as an example, noting Baldwin’s success blocking shots isn’t just because of his size but because he knows how to use it to play the angles.
“Baldy really brings a lot to the table especially on the PK. He takes up a lot of space with his stick and blocks a lot of passing and shooting lanes. In the exhibition game he blocked three or four shots on the PK.”
Kellan Lain is the tallest player in the Steelheads lineup at 6-foot-6, and while it’s the first thing people often notice when he steps off the bus at the rink, it’s his skating game that truly separates him. Lain was a teammate of Kyle Jean in college at Lake Superior State, where the two earned NHL attention as long-legged, smooth skating big-men.
“You can see it in Jeaner, too. He has a lot of speed and skill for a guy that is 6-foot-4,” said Lain. “It’s something that I’ve personally worked on my entire career during the summers. You always work on your skating and I take pride in it.”
“Skating is the most important part of the game. Being able to have size and speed in your lineup is pretty hard to stop.”
That’s one of the reasons why the Steelheads won’t need to change much about last season’s game plan, even with bigger bodies. The most important qualification for being a Steelhead this off-season was the ability to move.
“I think when you can have a combination of size, speed and skill, it’s very hard to defend at our level. I think it’s unique to have guys as big as we have that can also play the tempo that we want to play at,” said Graham.
The Steelheads look to walk into every building this season with speed and swagger, and a little added muscle won’t hurt either.
“This is the biggest team on average that I’ve played on. We kind of look a bit more like an NBA team,” joked Bigos. “But coming into rinks it’s going to be good for us. It is going to make it easier for us to get sticks on pucks and turn things the other way.”