The Idaho Steelheads wrap up the regular season this weekend against a team they very well could see in a week’s time in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Steelheads meet an Allen Americans team still entrenched in a three-team race for the final two playoff spots in the Mountain Division, sitting in the final berth but still tied for third place with the Wichita Thunder with 76 points.
The Steelheads have won eight straight games, one shy of their longest winning streak in the ECHL era, earned in March of 2015. The Americans are coming off a 2-1 loss to Wichita on Tuesday, having alternated wins and losses over their last six contests. The final weekend will complete a stretch of eight home dates in nine games to finish the season for Allen.
In addition to the Steelheads team streak, several individuals are also playing their best hockey of the season. Tomas Sholl has won nine straight games between the pipes for Idaho, and the reigning Goaltender of the Month has been in goal for each game during the team’s winning streak. During his nine-game run, Sholl has earned four shutouts and surrendered a total of eight goals, never surrendering more than two goals in a game.
Brady Brassart has points in six straight games for Idaho, totaling a goal and nine points in that span. Max French heads into the weekend with goals in his last six ECHL games, eight goals total, a streak that stretches back to February 19th after spending a month with AHL Texas. Cole Ully saw a streak of four consecutive multi-point games snapped on Wednesday in Tulsa.
The Americans can guarantee a playoff berth with two points, but otherwise will have their eyes on the scoreboard to see how the Thunder fare in two games in Colorado or how the Oilers manage in a pair against Rapid City.
David Makowski earned First Team All-ECHL honors for the second straight year, currently ranked second among ECHL defensemen with 53 points in 56 games. He has eight assists in his last seven outings. Joel Chouinard is tied for third among ECHL defensemen with 48 points.
Casey Pierro-Zabotel , a Kelly Cup winner in each of the last two seasons, ranks sixth in the ECHL with 69 points in 70 games. He has four goals and 14 points in his last 12 outings. Zach Pochiro missed significant time earlier in the season due to injury, but has had a strong second half and an explosive March. Last month, Pochiro had five goals and 14 points in 14 games and he followed it up with another goal on Tuesday.
Jefferson Dahl has been the center of attention for many of the contests between these teams, both on the score sheet where he has three goals and 11 points against Allen this season, and in the fisticuffs. Dahl is currently in the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters.
Idaho is 4-3-1 this season against the Americans, having split their only two-game visit to Allen Events Center this season in mid-November.
STEELHEAD TO WATCH
Eric Sweetman continued his second-half surge with another goal on Wednesday night in Tulsa, the tenth of the season for the rookie and his fourth in eight games. Sweetman ranks fifth among all rookie defensemen in goal-scoring, and he has collected all ten goals and 24 points in the last 42 games of the season, as well as a plus-27 rating. At plus-24 for the season, Sweetman has the best mark among all rookie blue-liners and the seventh-best mark among all ECHL defensemen.
AMERICAN TO WATCH
Alex Guptill was a point per game player at the start of the season while playing with a last-place Rapid City Rush team. When he got his opportunity to join a winner in December with a trade to the Allen Americans, he seized the chance by maintaining that scoring clip. Guptill has put up 20 goals and 43 points in 46 games with the Americans, a far cry from the one goal and two points he put up in a 10-game stint with the Americans last season. Guptill enjoyed a ten-game points streak in March, totaling six goals and 17 points. The Americans need him to find that form again to help secure the playoffs, with Guptill notching no goals and one assist in his last five contests.KEY MATCHUP
The season series has certainly felt personal between these two rivals throughout the season, with harsh words exchanged during and after games and plenty of penalty minutes between and after the whistles. The Steelheads don’t need points this weekend, but they are playing for pride with the opportunity to set a team record for consecutive wins and a chance to tie the third-best record in Steelheads ECHL history. The Steelheads would never claim to have a preference in dictating who will earn the final playoff spots, but depending on what Wichita and Tulsa do, they could find themselves in a position to deny Allen a playoff berth for the first time in their nine-year history (ECHL and CHL). Two teams that have combined for 460 penalty minutes in eight meetings this season will square off two more times in what could very well be a first-round playoff preview. Neither is likely to hold anything back.