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Steelheads looking to close the gap in Colorado

Wednesday, January 24th
Steelheads looking to close the gap in Colorado

Eight points separate the second-place Idaho Steelheads from the Mountain Division-leading Colorado Eagles as the Steelheads make their first visit of the season to Budweiser Events Center. Usually, overcoming a deficit of that size would be a long-term goal, culminating with a strong push to the playoffs in March and April. Yet a look at the Steelheads unorthodox schedule over the next few weeks would suggest that the Steelheads may have a unique opportunity to make a move on the Eagles sooner than that.

The Steelheads schedule over the next month is a challenging one, with nine of their next 12 games played against the Eagles and six of them played at Budweiser Events Center where the Eagles have lost once in regulation all season. Tonight’s game undoubtedly kicks off a gauntlet of a stretch, but perhaps also an opportunity if the Steelheads can string some wins together against the conference’s top-ranked team.

“In order for it to be an opportunity, you have to make the most of it,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham. “If you start thinking nine of the next 12, that’s daunting and you start getting ahead of yourself. It’s cliché but it’s a cliché for a reason. We need to focus on Wednesday.”

Though interrupted by a trio of games with the Utah Grizzlies next week, this stretch of games against the Eagles will present the closest resemblance to a playoff series. Two teams in close proximity in the standings and with the same goal in mind will battle night after night, and by the end of three weeks will know each other very well.

“When you play a team that often, it’s going to be a bit of a chess match,” said Graham. “You can’t expect to have multiple victories by playing identical hockey every night.”

The Steelheads will still be able to apply some of what they learned earlier this year, when they earned five of an available six points against the Eagles at CenturyLink Arena, the only three contests between the teams this year.

“There is a certain identity their team has like there is a certain identity that our team has. You see the similarities through their style in previous years,” said Graham. “There is an underlying theme to what they do, but they’re well coached and have a very good hockey team and they’ll adjust like we will.”

“You can definitely take some things that were successful, but you can’t plan to do those things over and over again. Eventually you’ll be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole because they’re going to adjust. We need to make sure we’re doing our homework and recognizing things in-game on the fly to make our adjustments.”

Idaho is coming off a strong weekend in Tulsa, earning back-to-back wins over the Oilers and scoring four goals each night while combining for 93 shots on goal. On Friday night, the line of AJ White, Daniel Tedesco, and Connor Chatham combined for two goals and five points. On Saturday, Jefferson Dahl had another two-goal, three-point night and Cole Ully added three assists.

“I think it’s the most thorough we’ve been, in terms of executing what we want in all three zones. We’re a structured hockey team in our own zone and in the neutral zone, but then we give more freedom in the offensive zone where we want guys to be more creative and use their speed,” said Graham. “I think we’ve found some chemistry and you can see them enjoying themselves and playing hard for each other. When that happens, it becomes contagious.”

That consistency throughout the lineup will serve Idaho well in Colorado, as will the defense corps’ ability to adapt. Injuries to Corbin Baldwin and Zach Bell forced the Idaho blue line to adjust in Tulsa, and even forced Alexander Dahl to play defense for the first time in his professional career.

“A lot of guys stepped up. I thought our group did what they needed to do to get the victories, and that’s probably the most impressive part. We had some injuries that occurred mid-game where we had to make some adjustments on the fly,” said Graham.

The defensive response was not only reliant on defenseman, as was demonstrated on Saturday when Steve McParland raced back to break up a 4-on-2 rush for Tulsa and sprung Justin Parizek’s goal on an odd-man rush the other way.

“I thought as a group we responded extremely well and covered for each other on the defensive side of the puck, which in turn allowed us to create quite a bit of offense in both games,” said Graham. “That’s the way we want to play, especially in a situation like that where we were asking some guys to do some new things within their game. We didn’t want to sit back.”

With a few bodies back in the lineup, the Steelheads will look to put that same aggressive mindset to work against the Eagles. After all, no stretch during the regular season will feel more like a playoff series than these next few weeks.

Upcoming Home Games

Full Schedule
Tulsa Oilers
Idaho Steelheads
Wednesday, March 20th
Tulsa Oilers @ Idaho Steelheads
Puck Drops:
7:10 PM MDT
Idaho Central Arena
Tulsa Oilers
TUL Tulsa Oilers
at
Idaho Steelheads
IDH Idaho Steelheads
Idaho Central Arena
Tulsa Oilers
Idaho Steelheads
Friday, March 22nd
Tulsa Oilers @ Idaho Steelheads
Puck Drops:
7:10 PM MDT
Idaho Central Arena
Tulsa Oilers
TUL Tulsa Oilers
at
Idaho Steelheads
IDH Idaho Steelheads
Idaho Central Arena
Tulsa Oilers
Idaho Steelheads
Saturday, March 23rd
Tulsa Oilers @ Idaho Steelheads
Puck Drops:
7:10 PM MDT
Idaho Central Arena
Tulsa Oilers
TUL Tulsa Oilers
at
Idaho Steelheads
IDH Idaho Steelheads
Idaho Central Arena

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