The Steelheads are making some noise in the ECHL in the last few weeks with wins in four of their last five games, but they’re not the only players to have worn an Idaho jersey that are impressing this month. At the beginning of the season, 22 former Steelheads had taken to the ice in an NHL game. Just a month into the campaign, that number has grown. Already, there are some pretty impressive results.
Former Steelheads Justin Dowling and Gemel Smith made their NHL debuts last month with the Dallas Stars, making an instant impact with the parent club. In addition, Jack Campbell, who had a game of NHL experience prior to his stints in Idaho, is back at the NHL level as well with the LA Kings. Defenseman Steven Oleksy, who was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Stanley Cup run last spring, was called up to The Show on Tuesday morning.
During a season in which the Steelheads are honoring 20 years of great players, October was a snapshot of the high caliber of hockey players who make their way through Boise.
“It’s absolutely huge. Something we’ve always prided ourselves on in this organization is development and player advancement, and we have a long history of our players getting an opportunity in the National Hockey League,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham.
Smith’s tenure in Idaho was brief, just four games last December. But in his first seven games in the NHL, Stars fans have already seen what Steelheads fans witnessed. Smith notched a short-handed goal in his first Steelheads outing, and on Sunday night he tallied a short-handed breakaway goal for his first in the NHL. He’d add a second later in the game for his first two-goal game, forcing overtime.
“It was exciting for us because Jack Campbell and Gemel Smith both played here last season,” said Graham. “To have those guys here and see guys make the jump from the ECHL to the NHL in one off-season, it’s exciting for us and our guys and it shows that we’re really not that far off from that level of play.”
Campbell has been serving as the back-up in LA for a few weeks behind Peter Budaj, but earned a relief appearance on November 1st against the Anaheim Ducks and stopped all five shots he faced in one period of work. Campbell was the ECHL’s Goaltender of the Month last January with Idaho.
Justin Dowling also earned a call-up to the Stars in October and collected an assist in his NHL debut. Dowling was recently called back to the Stars again after briefly returning to AHL Texas. He played 34 games with Idaho during the 2012-13 season, tallying 13 goals and 34 points.
“Justin Dowling was here my first season when I was an assistant coach. He’s a guy I knew from Calgary before and we’d actually trained together when we both played,” said Graham. “So I’ve known Justin a long time and to see him get his first opportunity and get a point, I was extremely happy for him.
The entire Steelheads organization is happy to see its alumni having success at the highest levels of hockey. And to see players in the NHL that so recently donned Steelheads colors, it’s a reminder of just how strong the level of play is in the ECHL and that hard-working players can make their own breaks each and every day.
“It just goes to show you how good our league is,” said Graham. “At all levels- the AHL and ECHL- there are multiple guys on each roster that could probably play in the NHL this year. It’s about opportunity; it’s about getting your chance at the right time and then making the most of it when you get it.”