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Steelheads Look to Bring Road Success to Rapid City

Wednesday, March 1st
Steelheads Look to Bring Road Success to Rapid City

Any team that expects to have success in the playoffs is going to have to be able to win games on the road, and the Steelheads have saved some of their best road hockey for their longest trip of the season.

The Steelheads will finish off an eight-game road swing in Rapid City this week after taking four of their first five games away from CenturyLink Arena. Those five games were against the Utah Grizzlies and Missouri Mavericks, two teams on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.

“At this time of year, the games get tighter and the details become all the more important,” said Steelheads captain Jefferson Dahl. “We feel like we’re playing the right way.”

The Steelheads are in good shape with 17 games left on their schedule, sitting third in the Mountain Division with an eight-point cushion separating them from the playoff fringe. But at the start of the trip, that picture was much tighter.

Prior to the Steelheads' series opener in Utah, Idaho had a five point lead on Utah but had seen the Grizzlies win seven of eight meetings. Despite the Grizzlies winning nine of their previous ten games, the Steelheads earned their first three-game series sweep. The Steelheads then moved on to Missouri and earned a split against a Mavericks team that had won nine of 11.

“We see the standings in our locker room every day. We knew the standings were tight,” said Dahl. “Utah was one of the hottest teams and we had issues with them this year. To go into their barn and play three good games and get three wins was huge for us. Points are at a premium and we need to keep pushing and playing our game.”

There’s more to the current trip than the large picture of the standings. Within the first five games of the road trip, the Steelheads have earned a shootout win, a 1-0 shutout, and on Saturday they achieved their largest comeback win of the season.

“All teams want to be playing their best hockey heading into playoffs and we’re no different. To be able to battle back and get wins on the road is huge,” said Dahl. “We’re still pushing for the second and first spots in the division, but we know we’re going to have to go on the road at some point in playoffs. To continue to get this experience in these close games down the stretch is going to help us.”

Teams also want to be getting contributions up and down the lineup in the spring, and Brian Nugent was the catalyst in Idaho’s three-goal comeback in Missouri on Saturday. Nugent scored two goals and added an assist, giving him four goals and six points in his last seven games.

“It was a great win for the team and it showed a lot of character, which we know we have and that we’re capable of coming back,” said Nugent. “To come back from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits was pretty impressive, I thought. It was a lot of fun playing with Lain and Morrissette, and a couple of shifts with Luciani.”

Nugent’s performance was the most recent example of the Steelheads’ ability to battle back in games this season, but it also showed the battle mentality Idaho has exhibited during their road swing. At the start of this stretch, the Steelheads were 9-9-4 on the road and each game was its own script. The Steelheads finished February playing a consistent brand of hockey.

“There are no easy games, especially in our division, and games on the road can arguably be tougher than games at home. We know we’re a good team and we feel that if we play according to the game plan that we’re going to get our points on the road,” said Nugent. “Things didn’t start the way we wanted on Saturday but the game plan we had outlined started to work for us in the second period. We just need to stick with it.”

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