With playoffs on the horizon, everything at this time of year is tight.
The Idaho Steelheads are gearing up for their third playoff meeting against the Utah Grizzlies, and the intensity of every single game starts to get higher as teams go deeper in the postseason.
It is a totally different game when the playoffs start, and the Steelheads have been preparing just for that.
“It’s a big part of the season,” said forward Steve McParland “We have to be in physical condition, ready to go. We got off to a slow start but we are sticking with the process that Coach has been working on all year. Having guys buy into the team process is going to make our team ready to go.”
High-intensity games are the best preparation. Nearly half of their games have finished by just one goal, with 33 of their 72e contests finishing this way. They’ve had a total of 45 two-goal games over the season schedule, which is almost two-thirds of their season. Of these, they’ve won 25 games.
These close games come down to the final seconds and even carry on for minutes at a time. That’s exactly what playoff hockey is like: it’s the first to four wins, so every player and every team is going hard until the final buzzer.
“One-goal games have been huge for our young guys, seeing how hard it is to score in these close games,” said captain A.J. White “We have learned a lot as a team throughout the year to know what it takes to be successful in these close games.”
In the first part of the season, the Steelheads went through a rough patch in these scenarios. Just in the first month, they had fourteen games that were decided by one goal, winning just six
Once they returned home for a longer span, these games started to go in the team’s favor. From November 14th to January 19th , they won nine of their 12 one-goal games, which helped turned the season right around and on the upward track.
“We had a slow start but it was a learning process. We want to play our brand of hockey going into playoffs. To do that we need to play our style of hockey and give the effort we have been giving in these close games.”
Across the ECHL, the Steelheads have stacked up well in close games. They finished the regular season ranked second overall in post-regulation wins and were also the first team to reach ten wins in post-regulation play with eight of their 11 wins coming in overtime. With shootouts now out of the picture and overtime transitioning to 5-on-5 play when playoffs start this weekend, it’ll be all about getting results in full team scenarios, especially when close games can be the difference in a best-of-seven series.
During the last 30 ECHL seasons, there have been over 50 games in the Kelly Cup Final that have been decided by one goal. It’s not to say the Steelheads are a lock for another run, but if the Steelheads are able harness what they’ve learned from playing in these close contests in addition to other factors that helped lead them to the postseason, then there’s a shot of another run at the Kelly Cup potentially in the works.