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Rookie Walsh making big strides

Tuesday, November 29th
Rookie Walsh making big strides

Whether it was at 5-on-5 against Chad Costello or on the penalty kill, the Steelheads did the job defensively over the weekend against the Allen Americans. Several Steelheads have raised their play in recent games, but standing out in particular this weekend behind the blue line was rookie defenseman Travis Walsh.

Walsh, playing his first full pro season after four years at Michigan State, came to Idaho after the best offensive season of his college career. Walsh posted 16 points as a senior, but still had a reputation for the defensive side of the game.

Twice as a Spartan, Walsh won the Dr. John Downs Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Year Award. He blocked 335 shots in 141 career college games, his defensive game a major reason he was expected to be a solid fit in Idaho.

For the first half of his season, it was more Walsh’s offense doing the talking. He collected three assists while adjusting to life as a pro in his first eight games, posting a minus-six rating. In his last eight games, it’s been a different story.

“Travis has come a long way and gotten better every day. He stays out there every day after practice and does extra work, and I think he’s starting to adjust to the pro game,” said Steelheads Assistant Coach Everett Sheen.

“For any player coming out of college, the size and the pace on the defensive side of the pro game is going to be an adjustment. I think he’s done a good job making those adjustments. He’s a smaller defenseman, and he’s learning how to handle bigger 6-foot-4 forwards in this league. It’s getting sticks and blocking shots and he’s doing it well.”

Walsh was a shut-down force against the Americans, diving in front of shots and making up for several Steelheads turnovers in the defensive zone. A strength of Walsh’s game in the early weeks of the season was his puck-movement in the offensive zone, but now that calmness has translated to smart decisions in his own end of the ice.

“I think it’s taken ten or 15 games to get used to the pro game and realize how fast and how physical it is. I’m trying to learn from some of the other guys and seeing what they do,” said Walsh, who spent time this weekend with Joe Faust. “The season is long and you go up and down. The team has had a lot of success the last 13 games, and when you’re on a winning team, the stats come with it.”

Walsh’s recent strong numbers, a plus-8 rating over the last eight games with two goals and four points, aren’t just a byproduct of his environment. Walsh’s steadiness in his own end is feeding his defensive play, and vice versa.

“I think anytime you’re blocking shots and doing your job in the defensive zone, your teammates appreciate it,” said Walsh. “They give you a tap on the shin pads and that gives you some confidence that you can carry over to the offensive side of your game.”

The Steelheads will need all of their defensemen to approach this week’s series with that same mentality, of handling their own zone and letting smart plays lead to offense. The Alaska Aces come to town seventh in the league in goals-per-game and fourth in shots-per-game. The Steelheads have earned points in seven straight games, and it’s largely because they’ve done a solid job of limiting the options for some highly-skilled opponents.

“It’s a matter of keeping them to the outside and forcing them to take the shots they don’t want to take,” said Sheen. “We always talk about blocking shots, but it’s no more of a point of emphasis this week.”

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