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Roster depth fueling strong December

Thursday, December 21st
Roster depth fueling strong December

The Steelheads earned their most lopsided victory of the season on Wednesday night against the Rush, a 6-1 victory in which ten different players made their way onto the scoresheet. A spread scoring attack has been a common theme this month for the Steelheads, when injuries and call-ups have rearranged the roster and called for a ‘next man up’ attitude.

The Steelheads have been without several significant contributors for lengthy stretches this month, with leading scorers and top-unit defenders shuffling in and out of the lineup on a nightly basis. That hasn’t slowed the team down, with the Steelheads currently boasting a 7-3-0 record in December and having won nine of their last 12 games.

Forward Brady Brassart was the Steelheads’ leading scorer when he signed a professional tryout agreement with AHL Utica on Decmember 3rd, and Justin Parizek was tied for the team-lead in goal-scoring when he signed a PTO with AHL San Jose last week. Shane Hanna was second in the ECHL in rookie scoring among defensemen when he was summoned to AHL Texas, and Charlie Dodero and Jefferson Dahl missed time due to injuries. Mitch Moroz and Aaron Harstad remain on injured reserve.

Despite these absences, the Steelheads have climbed to eleventh in the league in goals scored per game and remain second in the league in shots on goal per game, while also being just five points out of the top spot in the Western Conference. The Steelheads have held opponents to two goals or fewer in eight of the last nine contests.

The Steelheads’ continued success without several impactful pieces speaks to the adjustments several Steelheads have made to fill expanded roles.

“I think it speaks volumes to our team depth. We have a lot of guys who can play multiple roles and in multiple situations,” said Head Coach Neil Graham. “We have a bunch of guys who earlier in the year took lesser roles for the betterment of the team. They had no complaints about their ice time, and now they’re getting increased ice time and taking advantage of the opportunity.”

Henrik Samuelsson and Jefferson Dahl were putting up solid numbers prior to the roster moves and have maintained that pace, with Dahl scoring five goals during his current four-game goal scoring streak and Samuelsson collecting nine points during a four-game points streak. Dahl and Joe Faust both earned four-point nights on Wednesday against the Rush.

But other forwards have stepped up their scoring presence in recent weeks with greater opportunity.

“Guys like AJ White and Connor Chatham have been unbelievable on the PK and playing against other teams’ top lines. Now they’re getting a bit more time on the power play and expanded ice time and they’ve done a great job,” said Graham. “Guys like Corey Durocher, Daniel Tedesco, and Alex Dahl have earned more opportunity and been inserted into the lineup on a more consistent basis.”

“When you get more regular opportunities, your confidence grows. These guys can play and they know that.”

White has collected four assists in his last four games while skating on a line with Samuelsson and Will Merchant, and seeing power play time. Chatham scored a goal on Wednesday and logged 11 shots on goal, the most by a Steelhead in a game this season.

Tedesco and Durocher weren’t with the Steelheads just a few weeks ago, Durocher signing after being released by the Brampton Beast and Tedesco playing in the SPHL with Mississippi. Both players were given an opportunity after call-ups opened up roster spots for Idaho, and both have been noticeable on a nightly basis.

“You look at a guy like Dan Tedesco, he was in our main camp this year. He went to Mississippi in the SPHL and did terrific,” said Graham. “We recalled him and he’s playing great. He has a couple of points and is playing edgy. He’s finding a way to earn it every night.”

Tedesco scored his first ECHL goal on Wednesday. Durocher had his first Steelheads goal disallowed due to a high stick but still collected his fifth assist in ten games with Idaho.

With players up and down the roster finding ways to make a consistent impact, the Steelheads have not missed a beat.

“We’ve known all year long that our guys can play these big minutes, and it speaks to our depth earlier in the year,” said Graham. “That’s why we build that depth, so we know we have guys who can fill those multiple roles throughout the season.”

It’s certainly not an accident. The Steelheads saw seven players on ECHL deals sign PTO’s in the AHL last season, and Graham wanted to build a team that could withstand that type of roster drain again. Already this year Idaho has seen four ECHL contracted players earn PTO’s.

“We wanted to build a dynamic team this year with a lot of speed. The way the game is evolving is that it’s a fast game. We have guys that are producing and that can play at that pace and at an AHL tempo,” said Graham. “That opens eyes and some guys have gotten call-ups and opportunities this year, which is terrific. It’s why we made sure we had the depth in the off-season to prepare ourselves for the potential of a lot of call-ups.”

The ‘next man up’ mentality is moving the Steelheads forward. When every player is getting a chance to do more, and the team is having success, it can make winning a lot more fun, too.

“It’s a close locker room. When other guys have been great teammates and patient teammates, and you see them now getting an opportunity and making good on it, it brings even more positive energy,” said Graham. “You know how hard they’ve been working and how they’ve been coming to the rink every day with a good attitude. It’s great to see.”

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