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Good Ol' Home Cooking

Sunday, December 23rd
Good Ol' Home Cooking

The Idaho Steelheads have had an unusually long home stand at CenturyLink Arena. Playing nine games at home over the course of four weekends. Basically, just about the entire month of December has been at home.

That’s a lot.

For context, the team’s longest home stand of the year to-date was six games in two weeks, and that will be repeated two more times this year. Even the team’s longest road trip is nine games over three weeks crossing into January.

Either way, an extended home stand provides many advantages on and off the ice. Teams are granted more development days, more time for practice, and more time to focus on recovery. This series of home games has been a key role in the team finding their groove, and the players can feel it.

“It is rare to have a home stand this long,” said defenseman Keegan Kanzig. “It helps to have the home fans cheering us on and the extra time has helped the team find our groove.”

Without road travel, the Steelheads have been able to add an extra practice or two per week compared to their first month of the season, all coming on home ice. That allows time to address specific aspects of the game, further systems and focus on personal development, which leads to a better overall product both as a whole and as individuals.

“Extra days of practice and the time spent on systems and individual skills has helped solidify our game,” said forward Brad McClure.

The results have showed themselves. Through the nine-game stretch, the Steelheads earned a 7-2-0-0 record, shooting them up to second place in the Mountain Division heading into the holidays. Away from the obvious, Head Coach Neil Graham noticed other improvements both on and off the ice: things they’ve keyed in on heading into this extended stretch.

“We are playing a more consistent game of hockey,” said Graham. “The home stand has allowed us to manage our time away from the rink and acquire the structure we have wanted.” 

Home stands also provide an opportunity for recovery and rest that the players don’t get on the road. One of the hardest adjustments to being at this level is time management, especially with long travel. If you aren’t playing in a game on the road, then you're practicing. If you're not practicing, then you're traveling to your next series.

This extended home stand has really given the players a chance to rest and get their legs back under them, which is a vital aspect away from the rink to improve performance. 

“Recovery is important anywhere. The balance of pushing the players by incorporating harder workouts and ensuring that have the rest they need is an important aspect of performance on the ice.”

“My body felt the worst it ever has during our time traveling,” said McClure. “Now that we are home, I am able to utilize the locker room, cold tubs and hot tubs to help recover a little better and faster, and that has shown on the ice.”

Like past seasons, the Steelheads also faced a large amount of roster updates early in the year, with many players going through the revolving door to and from the AHL. Roster updates can be hard on any team, but the Steelheads have used these updates to their advantage by seeking a positive perspective. Each move has provided a “next man up” mentality within the lineup, and along with that comes an embracing of that role to excel when opportunities that have come to light.

Naturally, that comes to the delight of Graham.

“The team has done a good job of focusing and controlling what we can control, and this has helped us on the ice,” said Graham.

This year’s roster only has nine players from last year, providing another diverse cast of characters within the locker room. 11 of those players hold rookie status.

For players coming from other professional teams, it’s just about finding the right chemistry, and for players like Kanzig, who previously played with Florida and Adirondack, the transition isn’t uncommon but necessary to building chemistry. The more time you’re home, the more time you can bond at and away from the rink.

“I’m not the only new guy to the team,” said Kanzig. “The more time we can spend on the ice as a team, will make our system more of a habit come game time.”

Others, like McClure, come from a college schedule, which only sees around 25 regular season games before hitting conference and NCAA tournaments. That’s a little more than one-third of the ECHL regular season, so adjusting mentally and physically to a longer, more rigorous schedule can be a tough task to navigate, especially with an early extended road trip.

“Having to travel for two weeks at a time and live out of a hotel has been a lot more than what I am used to from college hockey season,” said McClure. “Knowing when to practice and when to take a day off is big. No one really likes to practice on travel days, but it will catch up to you. It was important for a first year player like me to experience this earlier on in the season so I have an expectation for the rest of the traveling of the season.”

Even eating habits and pre-game rituals have to be managed. On the road, much of these options often get disrupted or changed with many choices being limited to dining out for three meals per day, and it becomes about keeping it as consistent as possible.

Above all, sleep is paramount, and there’s truly nothing better than your own bed for pre-game naps and nightly sleep.

“Sleeping in your own bed, living in your own apartment, and making your own meals helps you live a little better and that shows on the ice.”

“Being on the road so early in the season didn’t provide us enough time to get settled in here in Boise,” said Kanzig. “Sleeping in my own bed and making my own meals and finally settling in has been a big advantage of the home stand.”

Unfortunately, the Steelheads can’t stay at home forever. This week will start two weeks away from CenturyLink Arena and only have six home games between now and the third week of February. However, the team that came into the home stand is not the same as the one that is exiting, and that bodes for confidence and optimism heading toward the start of the New Year.

Sometimes it just takes some good ol’ home cooking. 

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