As the Steelheads completed their skate at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Wednesday morning, the group that snagged seven out of ten points at CenturyLink Arena in the past two weeks appeared confident and ready to grab its first road points of the 2015-16 season against the Rush.
Several Steelheads players mentioned prior to the team’s five-game home stand that it was important for the players to make some progress, string some wins together, and feel more comfortable as a group. With back-to-back wins closing out that home stretch, they believe they have done just that.
“I think the two wins last week at home were a big step in the right direction,” said defenseman Zach Bell. “We still have a lot of work to do, and this Rapid City team has some skill up front and some guys that we have to contain. I think it’s going to be a good measuring stick and we’ll see how this young team reacts on the road.”
The Steelheads struggled to produce offense in their first two games of the season, both defeats in Utah in which they combined for one goal. Those concerns vanished in Boise, where the Steelheads scored 13 goals in two games against the Grizzlies. Beyond that, they were also able to win two of three closely-contested battles against the Royals, one ending in a shootout and the other a two-goal game only because of an empty-net goal.
In a short span, the Steelheads were able to win in multiple ways while relying on a variety of people. They can succeed in the wide-open style or they can lockdown and win the trench battles. It’s a trait they would like to bring with them to Rapid City and then Colorado.
“We need to stick to our game and our structure. If you look at the games that (Rapid City) lost, they were pretty high-scoring games,” said captain Jefferson Dahl, riding a five-game points streak into the contest. “So we need to play sound defensively and often that’s where our offense springs from. If we play well defensively it will transition to offense, and if we’re doing that we feel good about ourselves.”
That’s a good mental approach against a Rush team that has lacked success as a group in the early going, but has several individuals who have thrived. The line of Lindsay Sparks, Josh MacDonald, and Ryan Walters is among the best in the league so far this year, with Sparks leading the league in goals and points as the reigning Player of the Week and Walters close behind him, ranked third in points.
Part of Idaho’s success against the Royals relied on keeping certain prominent scoring threats like Olivier Labelle and Chris McCarthy largely off the score sheet. The Steelheads ability to limit the Rush’s top unit will go a long way in helping Idaho generate offense against the worst defensive team in the ECHL.
“We need to shut down the guys we know are dangerous,” said forward Rob Linsmayer. “If we play our game, we’re deeper and more structurally sound and we can get the win.”
The Steelheads had their battles with the Rush last season, splitting the 12-game season series and also splitting the six games at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Despite the Rush record, the Steelheads expect a stiff challenge on Wednesday night. After getting to know themselves a little bit better on home ice, the Steelheads are better prepared for the rigors of the road and looking to carry their winning momentum into November.
“I think even more so that we can trust ourselves and not freak out if we’re down in a game,” said Linsmayer. “We trust that we’ve got every bit of talent that we need to win every night.”