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Preview: Bounce Back Against the Bears

Tuesday, January 30th
Preview: Bounce Back Against the Bears

The Steelheads look to get back in the win column this week with three games against the Utah Grizzlies, hitting the ice at Maverik Center on Wednesday night and then returning to Boise for a pair at CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads suffered a sweep in Colorado last week, their first three-game losing streak of the season.

The Grizzlies have lost each of their last two series, dropping three of four to the Rapid City Rush and then two of three to the Tulsa Oilers. The Grizzlies currently sit six points outside the Mountain Division playoff picture, while the Steelheads lead the Wichita Thunder by one point for the number-two spot.

The Grizzlies have been forced to undergo some roster changes since these teams last met on December 30th. Forwards Greger Hanson and Ryan Olsen, as well as goaltender Kevin Carr, all left the team to pursue playing options in Europe. Hanson had 28 points in 25 games for the Grizzlies and was the team’s second-leading scorer when he departed for Germany. Carr led the ECHL in minutes and appearances.

Despite the costly departures, the Grizzlies are still getting slightly better than point-per-game play from captain Ryan Walters and they have gotten defenseman Cliff Watson back from AHL Utica. Watson was with the Comets from December 4th to January 9th, returning to Utah just in time to represent the Grizzlies in the All-Star Game. The rookie blue-liner has 21 points in 30 games for the Grizzlies this season, two goals and five assists of which have come in his nine games since returning from the Comets.

Austin Ortega and Jon Puskar have also helped to pick up the slack. Puskar has goals in four of his last five games, while Ortega has seven goals and 13 points in 12 games since joining the Grizzlies on January 6th from AHL San Diego.

Brady Brassart was a teammate of Watson’s during his professional tryout with Utica, the Steelheads’ forward returning to Idaho on Friday and appearing in two games over the weekend in Colorado. Brassart had a goal and an assist in his first two games back, giving him 25 points in 23 ECHL games this season.

The Steelheads will be without Jefferson Dahl for Wednesday night’s game, as well as Corbin Baldwin, as both serve the second game of their respective suspensions. The Steelheads will need scoring depth to make up for Dahl’s absence, something they have gotten from the line of Connor Chatham, Will Merchant, and AJ White. The trio combined for five goals and nine points across three games in Colorado, and White has three goals in his last five games and three multi-point performances in his last seven outings.

Despite surrendering 16 goals across three games with the Eagles, the Steelheads did get encouraging play on the blue line. Eric Sweetman added another assist on Saturday and has two goals, eleven points, and a plus-14 rating in the last eleven games. Charlie Dodero is in the midst of a four-game points streak, with a goal and four assists.

The Steelheads hope to snap their losing streak in a building in which they have had their troubles this season. The Steelheads are 2-2-1 this season at Maverik Center, but suffered their only shutout loss of the season in Utah back in October as well as a blown three-goal lead in a shootout loss in their last visit in late December. The Grizzlies have won just one of six home games since that December 30th contest.

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

Steve McParland sparked the Idaho offense in Colorado on Saturday with a two-goal game, first scoring on an impressive end-to-end rush in the first period and then finding the back of the net with a wrister late in the second period. McParland became the first Steelhead to reach 20 goals this season, netting eight goals in his last 12 outings. McParland rides a five-game points streak into Utah, and he has four goals against the Grizzlies this season.

GRIZZLY TO WATCH

Ryan Walters got a late start to the season, not hitting the ice until his rights were traded to the Grizzlies from Rapid City on October 30th. In 35 games with the Grizzlies, Walters has assumed the captaincy and leads the team with 16 goals and 36 points. Walters has five goals and eleven points in his last 13 games, and has hurt the Steelheads for four goals and six points in six games this season. The Steelheads and their fans have seen plenty of Walters over the last four seasons, in which he has made stops in Alaska, Rapid City, and Utah.KEY MATCHUP

First periods were the difference in Colorado last weekend, when the Eagles jumped out to multi-goal first period leads on Friday and Saturday and the Steelheads had to mount furious comeback efforts in the final 40 minutes. This week may depend more on the final 20 minutes of games, when the Steelheads have seen the scrappy Grizzlies battle back in past meetings. When the teams last squared off at Maverik Center on December 29th and 30th, the Steelheads twice surrendered three goals in third periods, once to turn a 3-3 game into a 6-3 Utah win and then again to erase a 4-1 Idaho lead en route to a Grizzlies 5-4 shootout victory. Overall, the Steelheads have outscored their opponents by ten goals in third periods this season. In nine games against the Grizzlies, Idaho’s third period goal differential is minus-4, largely because of the last two match-ups. Should the Steelheads be able to transfer their third period efforts in Colorado to this Utah series, they should be in solid position to close out games against a Grizzlies team that has led after 40 minutes in just four of the past 15 games.

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