One year ago at Steelheads training camp, captain Jefferson Dahl and new defenseman Joe Faust were fielding plenty of questions. The former Wisconsin teammates, roommates, and close friends were on the same squad once again, a feel-good reunion that fans wanted to learn more about. But it didn’t take long for attention to shift away from their friendship and instead onto what both players were doing on the ice.
Dahl and Faust both enjoyed the best seasons of their professional careers in 2016-17, with Dahl leading the team in scoring and Faust having one of the best offensive seasons ever by a Steelheads defenseman with a record-breaking 14 goals, as well as 41 points to lead Idaho blue-liners. The coaches would be happy to see a repeat performance this season, but those aren’t the expectations being placed in training camp.
“Looking at Joe, I think he has to just be himself. If he plays steady and plays his game, I think he’ll have similar numbers,” said Head Coach Neil Graham. “It’s human nature to want to improve on the year before. A big thing is that I think Joe would take ten fewer points if it meant we won ten more games. As long as we’re improving as a team, guys will get their looks.”
“I want Jefferson to do his thing, leading by example in practice and in games,” said Graham. “His work-ethic is contagious and that’s how I want him to lead. If he plays his game and does what he always does, he’s going to have success and others are going to feed off of him.”
The two players will likely play a role in all areas again. Both are strong defensive players, and power play success has fueled both players’ impressive stat columns with Faust grabbing 22 power play points last season and Dahl netting 22 power play goals over the course of the last three years.
“When you need to defend a lead or put a goal on the board late, you can’t ask for two better guys than that,” said Charlie Dodero, back in Idaho for his fourth season and third as a teammate of Dahl. “They were a huge part of last year’s team and I expect them to play a similar role this season.”
Like all players, the two believe they have come into camp even better than they were a year before. For Dahl, that means he’s comfortable in the major offensive role he has assumed over the prior two seasons. He’s also even more confident in his role as captain after a full season last year wearing the ‘C’.
“I know what to expect from myself night in and night out, and I feel I have more I can contribute. There are obviously areas I can improve on and I hope to bury a few more chances here and there,” said Dahl. “There are things like that, but every night I think I can bring that energy and compete level.”
Faust was a revelation last season in his ability to jump up in the rush to create offensively, and he plans to be even more effective this year after a summer spent working on the explosiveness in his skating. Those improvements were evident on Tuesday at practice during full-ice drills, with the defense corps getting a lot of repetitions.
“I feel good out there. Obviously there’s a little conditioning that sets in after a while on the ice,” said Faust. “But I had a good summer training and I didn’t feel overly exhausted after drills.”
As Graham said, another strong statistical season for Faust and Dahl will likely mean another successful season in the standings for Idaho. The two leaders from last year’s team have their attention firmly fixed on the win column heading into Opening Night.
“Team expectations are the same. I expect us to be at the top of the division and competing for a Kelly Cup,” said Faust. “We have a great organization from the top down.”