Just minutes earlier, the ice at CenturyLink Arena was littered with sticks and gloves during what became a 6-on-6 line brawl between the Steelheads and the Allen Americans. At this moment, there was only one glove resting on the ice while its owner, Alex Dahl, galloped along the boards with a bare hand raised in the air celebrating his first professional goal.
“I didn’t expect to score and emotions were running high after a couple of brawls in the third period,” said Dahl after burying an AJ White rebound to give the Steelheads a 5-1 lead. “To put one away, my emotions kind of got away from me.”
It was an emotional evening on many fronts, with the Steelheads battling to fight off an Allen sweep and the two teams combining for 148 penalty minutes over three periods, including several ejections. Wrapped up in all the emotions of the game itself, Dahl also had some extra fans in the stands with his immediate family, as well as nieces and nephews, looking on for his first goal.
“It was really special. It was the first time my sister has seen me play a pro hockey game. And I had all my nieces and nephews there,” said Dahl. “To squeeze one in during the last couple shifts of the series was really special.”
Dahl’s goal was just the most recent in a steady increase in scoring from the Steelheads’ ‘third line’. The last two weeks have seen the likes of Dahl, Connor Chatham, and AJ White leaving a bigger footprint on the score sheet.
“We felt like we were playing really well for the first few weeks of the season and it just wasn’t going in for us,” said Chatham. “We’ve been making a concerted effort to get to the front of the net more and it’s been working out for us. We have to keep doing it.”
Chatham scored a goal on Friday night and has four goals and six points over the last nine games. White set up Dahl’s goal and has four points in the past four games.
It hasn’t just been the numbers supporting a bigger impact, but also the situations. White’s goal last Saturday in Rapid City, shorthanded and on a set-up from Chatham, capped a three-goal third period comeback for the Steelheads.
“I think everyone stepped up and we have a ‘next man up’ mentality,” said Chatham.
That mentality was handy on Saturday with both benches shortened by injury and ejections. The brawl in the third saw five players leave the game. But even before that, Chatham, White, and Dahl were finding themselves in augmented roles because of absences of Mitch Moroz and Justin Parizek from the lineup. White and Chatham were seeing power play time, and Dahl was receiving more penalty killing time alongside his brother Jefferson.
“If I’m only going to play eight or ten minutes a night and kill penalties, that’s what I’m going to do,” said Dahl. “If I’m asked to go out and try to put one away, that’s what I’ll do. I’m going to try to do whatever the team asks me to do.”
The trio has combined for nine points over the last four games and is proving itself to be more dangerous than a checking unit late in games.
“As soon as you can get three lines going, it doesn’t matter who goes out or what the situation is because there are nine or ten guys going at once,” said Dahl. “We’re going to win a lot of hockey games that way.”