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Welcome Home: A Look Back at October

Tuesday, November 16th
Welcome Home: A Look Back at October

October marked a special time of the year in the Treasure Valley area as the Steelheads returned to the ice for the first time in over a year and a half. The Steelheads were unable to play for 595 total days due to the pandemic but finally made their return to the ice on October 22 in the climax point of a month filled with hockey at Idaho Central Arena.

The Steelheads kicked off the year with the 25th Anniversary Reunion Game on October 9. A total of 35 alumni members returned to downtown Boise for a night of friendly competition on the ice between former teammates and friends.

The reunion game featured two teams of former Steelheads players spanning from the inaugural 1997-98 WCHL season through more recently retired players in three 20-minute periods of running clock. Alumni forwards Marty Flichel (’02-’03, ’04-’12) and Cal Ingraham (’98-’02) captained the two teams and drafted the full roster for the event. Fans enjoyed an action-packed game from both sides, culminating in an 8-7 shootout result. Flichel’s team was down by three goals in the third period and made an incredible late-game comeback to force a shootout, but in the end Ingraham's team came out on top in the best-of-three shootout. Off the ice, players made friendly jabs and jokes with in-game interviews and fed off the excitement shown by the crowd in a memorable night to start the hockey season.

“It’s unbelievable coming out of the tunnel again and getting back onto the ice,” said defenseman Kory Scoran (‘05-’09, ‘11-’12). “It was a great crowd tonight as well, and it brings back a lot of feelings and emotions. Hearing your name get called on the loud speaker brings back a lot of stuff. It was just awesome.”

“It was a lot of fun, great group of guys obviously,” added Flichel. “It’s nice to be back in the building, and we all had a blast."

Following an exhibition meeting against the Utah Grizzlies the week prior open to only season ticket holders, the 2021-22 Steelheads season kicked off at home on October 22. The Steelheads tallied four power play goals, as well as a hat-trick from captain A.J. White, in a strong 7-3 win over the Grizzlies.This game marked the most goals the team scored since netting nine goals against the Rapid City Rush on Dec. 28, 2018 and the most at home since Dec. 22, 2018 when they notched another 7-3 win over the Grizzlies.

Idaho Central Arena was sold out to open the season as 5,039 fans provided an electric atmosphere that the players felt throughout the night. It was the largest Opening Night sellout at Idaho Central Arena since Oct. 18, 2008, where 5,133 fans attended the game. 

“I took it upon myself to try and be a little better, but everybody out there contributed and that's how I got my success,” said White. “Everyone did what they were supposed to do, and if they didn’t do what they were supposed to do, then I wouldn't have been able to score. So it's all credit to my teammates.”

The Steelheads played the next two games in Utah, where they won the first game 5-3. The following day, they were unable to find the net, and were shutout in the final game of the series though took two of three contests.

The following weekend, the Steelheads welcomed back a familiar face in a new place: Scott Burt, former player and assistant coach for the Steelheads who now leads the Rapid City Rush as their Head Coach.

The Steelheads struck first for the first time this season early in the game on a one-time shot from rookie forward Yauheni Aksiantsiuk for the 1-0 lead. The Rush recorded back-to-back tallies to close out the frame before the home side opened the second period strong. Forward Luc Brown leveled scoring before forward Will Merchant notched his first two goals of the year on back-to-back tallies to take a 4-2 lead. However, the Rush stormed back with three-unanswered goals to seal the 5-4 result in their favor.

Game two on October 30 was a chance for the Steelheads to not only get back in the win column but also avenge a hard fought loss from the previous night.

Rush tallied the opening goal on night two in the first period, but the Steelheads pressed offensively throughout the game. The home side hit three posts in the first period and outshot the Rush 25-12 in the first two frames though it took almost that long to tie the game. Goaltender Matt Jurusik made an incredible save against a 2-on-1 rush, and that eventually led to the tying goal by Aksiantsiuk, who pushed one through the legs of the netminder. That goal, paired with a fight by forward Colby McAuley answering for a hit on a defenseless player, brought the game to a fever pitch leading into the third period.

Jurusik was a key factor in sending the game into overtime, stopping all 14 shots in the third period during the Rush’s counterattack. The Steelheads wasted no time once they reached bonus hockey. Aksiantsiuk stole the show by scoring in only seven seconds, setting a new team record for the fastest overtime goal in the Steelheads ECHL era and earning the extra point in the 2-1 overtime win. The Steelheads won three of their first five games, including two of three at home, heading into their recent six-game road trip.

As the Steelheads return home for their own six-game homestand following their road trip, the team has had some strong starts individually to the season.

Yauheni Aksiantsiuk has had a strong rookie season in North America for the Steelheads. leading the team with 10 points and sharing the scoring lead among ECHL rookies. Nine of his first 10 points, including four of five goals, all came in October, earning him ECHL Rookie of the Month honors. His speed and skill has provided the offensive spark needed early in the season as the Steelheads continue to develop as a team.

A.J. White has embodied what it means to be a leader for this team and earned the results to back it up, notching his first-career hat-trick on Opening Night and earning four goals on opening weekend. He’s coming off the road trip with three assists in two games and sits in the top-five on the team in scoring with eight points. His experience and leadership has been a factor in the development of a younger roster, which is coming into its own through the first few weeks.

One of those younger players is forward Luc Brown, another player that has already shown great potential. He has posted seven points along with four assists on the season, including four points on the power play and goals in big moments. Brown has already more than doubled his production in the same number of games from the 2020-21 season of three points in seven contests and owns the second-most points for first-time Steelheads players behind Aksiantsiuk.

During the road trip, the Steelheads signed Mitch Versteeg to join the team’s defensive core after two players were called up to AHL teams. Versteeg, 33, spent the last eight years overseas with seven in Europe and one in Asia following a four-year stint in the ECHL with Kalamazoo and Trenton to open his career. Heading into his 13th professional season, he brings 194 points and 995 penalty minutes through 560 games. Versteeg provides veteran knowledge to aid a young defensive core and added physical stability on the back end.

The Steelheads head into a six-game homestand beginning tomorrow night with wins in three of their last four games and a 3-3-0 record during their road trip. The Steelheads will host the Adirondack Thunder three times for the first time in five years as well as rekindle their rivalry with the Allen Americans for a three-game weekend through Thanksgiving to close November.

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