The Steelheads are back at CenturyLink Arena and preparing for their first game on home ice in nearly a month when the Cincinnati Cyclones blow into town on Friday for the first game of a two-game set. The Steelheads and Cyclones have not met since 2010, when the Cyclones defeated Idaho in the Kelly Cup Final. Prior to that, these teams have only met three times in the regular season, all in Idaho’s first ECHL campaign in 2003-04. The Steelheads are 2-0-1 in regular season play against the Cyclones, with both wins coming in Boise via shutout efforts by Dan Ellis and Blair Allison.
The present versions of the Steelheads and Cyclones are both rolling, with Idaho coming off a 7-1-0 road trip and currently riding a four-game winning streaking, matching their longest streak of the season. The Cyclones have won three in a row and eight of their past ten as they fight to protect a one point lead over the South Carolina Stingrays for the final playoff spot in the South Division.
The Steelheads completed a three-game sweep of the Rapid City Rush to close out their road trip last weekend, scoring three goals in the third period for the second consecutive night behind a 37-save effort by goaltender Branden Komm. The Steelheads’ come-from-behind capabilities were on full display in the second half of the road trip, with the Steelheads coming back in three of their last four games to win.
Brian Nugent has been a driving force for Idaho’s strong play of late. Nugent has multi-goal games in two of his last four contests, and he has five goals and seven points in his last seven games. Nugent has played his best hockey for Idaho since returning from IR 12 games ago, scoring six goals in the span with one coming shorthanded. Nugent is a former Cyclone himself, having played 81 games and 11 playoff games with Cincinnati from 2013-2015.
Another player with a two-goal performance on Saturday was Rob Linsmayer, who has turned on his scoring touch in recent weeks with three goals and seven points in five games. His linemate Jefferson Dahl has a goal and four assists over that same stretch.
Two of the Cyclones’ offensive weapons are players Steelhead fans may remember from earlier in the season. Shane Walsh and Brandon McNally both began the season with the Utah Grizzlies, but were dealt after the four meetings to start the season between the Grizzlies and Steelheads. Since joining the Cyclones, Walsh has been a strong producer with 30 points in 42 games, his 40 points for the year leading the team. McNally has 22 points in 39 games since joining Cincinnati, but just one goal and no assists in his last eight games.
Former Steelhead Jordan Sims brings a five-game points streak back Boise, matching his longest streak of the season, and he has a point in seven of his last eight contests. Forward Shawn O’Donnell has had short stints in the ECHL in the past during a mostly-AHL career, but in 35 games with the Cyclones this season he has nine goals and 28 points, including two goals and five points in his last six games.
The Steelheads have gotten comfortable in tight games during the past three weeks, winning two 1-0 games and seeing their last seven games decided by a goal (discounting empty-net goals). The Cyclones survive on tight games as well, ranking 24th in the 27-team league in goals scored per game and ranking fifth in goals against per game. The Steelheads will hope to blow that margin open with their special teams play. Idaho is fourth in the league on the power play and third on the penalty kill, one of just two teams in the ECHL to rank in the top-5 in both categories.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Another former Cyclone, Anthony Luciani heads into the weekend with two goals and three points in his last four games, earning an assist on Brian Nugent’s game-winning tally on Saturday. Luciani has seven goals and 12 points in his last 13 games, and he leads the Steelheads in goals and points this season. Luciani played three seasons in Cincinnati from 2011 to 2014, totaling 133 games and 118 points but never making it to the playoffs. Luciani continues to perform at nearly a point-per-game pace, with 54 points in 57 games with Idaho.
CYCLONE TO WATCH
Michael Houser and Mark Visentin have carried the bulk of the work load in Cincy this season, but Joel Rumpel had a couple of strong appearances last week for the Cyclones en route to ECHL Goaltender of the Week honors. Rumpel earned a 46-save shutout over the Adirondack Thunder last Thursday and then followed it up with a 51-saves win over the Thunder two nights later. Rumpel has been limited this season with only seven appearances, but with Houser in the AHL and Visentin winning just one of his last six starts, it’s reasonable to think the former Wisconsin Badger and two-time Kelly Cup winner with the Allen Americans may see some rubber again this week.KEY MATCHUP
A goaltending match-up may very well be under the microscope at CenturyLink Arena this week depending on how Rumpel is utilized. Rumpel’s two wins were just his third and fourth starts since January 20th, but following his performance last weekend and Mark Visentin’s struggles, you’d have to believe Rumpel will get the first crack at the Steelheads. The runner-up for Goaltender of the Week honors was Landon Bow, who has earned 1-0 shutouts in two of his last four outings and is 11-1-1 in his last 13 games. Bow also ranks second in the league in save percentage and goals-against average. Branden Komm has won back-to-back starts and stopped 31 shots over the final 40 minutes to earn a win on Saturday. The Cyclones are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league and have a minus-16 goal differential in third periods this season. With Idaho showing its third period muscle in three of their last four wins, the goaltending matchup early in games can be a deciding factor in this two-game set.