The Steelheads’ season-long eight-game road trip through February and early March not only got their playoff charge back on track for 2017, but also proved the Steelheads were learning to win in a variety of ways. A blowout win in Utah to start the trip and a comeback win in Kansas City set the Steelheads up for a dream road trip if they could take care of business in Rapid City.
The Steelheads started the series strong with wins in the first two games. They scored the only goal of the series opener on March 1st, a 1-0 shutout win for Landon Bow. On March 3rd, Idaho scored three goals in the third period to take a 3-1 win. Going for the sweep in the series finale, the Steelheads would need a little more magic.
The Steelheads struggled out of the gate at Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, falling behind 2-0 in the first period on two power play goals. Logan Nelson beat Branden Komm on a deflection of a point shot from former Steelhead Riley Weselowski. With 4:20 left in the first period, Rush captain Ryan Walters added to the lead on a 3-on-2 rush, snapping a right-wing shot over Komm’s shoulder for a 2-0 Rush lead.
The Steelheads’ turnaround on their road trip faced limited adversity, but one of its trademarks was their ability to prevent games from getting away from them, preventing bad luck from snow-balling. On this night, it was Brian Nugent finding his scoring touch and stopping the bleeding before the end of the first.
Just over a minute after Walters scored, Nugent got Idaho on the board with his sixth goal of the season, and third in seven games. Aaron Harstad’s sent a low wrist shot on goal from the blue line. Rather than redirect the puck, Nugent stopped it on his blade and instead spun a backhander that fooled Adam Morrison to make it 2-1.
Idaho was trailing after 20 minutes despite launching 18 shots on goal, but the second period would be all about Branden Komm. Komm stopped all 16 shots he faced in the scoreless middle frame, sending Idaho to the final period of their road trip trailing by a goal.
Rob Linsmayer would draw the game even, with help from Kyle Jean, just over four minutes into the third period. Rush defenseman Michael Monfredo made a bad read in the neutral zone, stepping up at the red line and falling down to allow Jean and Linsmayer into the Rapid City zone on a 2-on-1. Jean’s saucer pass from the right wing landed right on Linsmayer’s blade in the slot with a wide-open net to tie the game.
The Steelheads earned their first lead of the night 2:24 later on a play that saw Rush head coach Mark DeSantis’ night come to an end. Kellan Lain was behind the Rush net and drew two Rush defenders to him before sliding a pass in front to Nugent. As the puck moved across the net, Morrison lunged from post-to-post in his net. Nugent one-timed the pass just as Morrison’s skate knocked his post off the mooring.
The puck entered the net just as the net came loose, and referee Sean Fernandez allowed the goal to count for Nugent’s second of the night and a 3-2 Steelheads lead.
DeSantis, along with the entire Rush bench, protested that the goal should have been disallowed. The ECHL Rule Book allows the referee discretion to determine if the puck would have still entered the net without it being dislodged, as well as if the goaltender is at fault for kicking it off and if the shot came simultaneously. DeSantis disagreed, and after some heated words and a few water bottles leaving the bench, his night was over.
For Nugent, it was his seventh goal of the season and his second two-goal game in four contests. Nugent would score seven goals in ten games from February 17th to March 15th.
Linsmayer would net his second as well into an empty net to cap the scoring on a 4-2 Steelhead win, their third comeback effort in the third period in four games and their seventh win to cap their road trip.