Back on Idaho soil and just a month out from his third training camp with the Steelheads, captain Jefferson Dahl is ready to drop the puck. So much so that he’s back in town earlier than he ever has been, training hard and enjoying his hockey home until he can officially get back to work.
“It’s been good. I went home for a couple months and got back to Idaho in early August. Now I’m ramping up the training, and I’m trying to enjoy the Idaho weather before the season starts,” said Dahl.
The fourth-year Steelhead is coming off his best professional season, matching his career-high with 22 goals and notching 66 points in 70 games, 17 more points than his previous best. Having established himself as one of the top centers in the Western Conference last season, Dahl spent the summer making sure he stays at that level.
“For the most part I tried to replicate last summer and do the same kind of stuff. At the same time, building off last year there is still more to prove and more to give,” said Dahl, who sits tied for fourth on the Steelheads’ all-time ECHL list for goals, fourth in assists, and fifth in points.
“I’m trying to get on the ice a little more and work on the skill development around the net. There are little things I think I can improve on, whether it’s scoring or just being stronger. Other than that, it’s about getting the body ready for a 72-game season and being as strong and in the best shape I can be.”
Dahl’s career-year wasn’t only a matter of his performance on the ice. In his first year wearing the ‘C’, Dahl had a variety of new leadership responsibilities, some that will be just as important with a handful of new faces joining the team this season. While his mindset won’t change this season, there were lessons learned in his first year as the lead voice in the dressing room.
“I think for the most part it’s doing the same things. It’s being who I am and leading by example,” said Dahl. “At the same time, having a year under my belt, knowing certain situations and how to approach them is going to help me.”
“There are times in the locker room when something needs to be said and other times when nothing needs to be said. I learned from those situations, but it’s going to be a matter of playing the way I can and leading by example.”
If he wanted some practice in ‘leading by example’ during the summer months, he got it while playing the role of older brother back home in Wisconsin. His brother, Alex, just completed his college career at St. Lawrence University and will be looking for pro opportunities this fall.
The two brothers didn’t skate together during Jefferson’s time in Eau Claire, but they did visit the gym and go on a few bike rides. Perhaps more importantly, Jefferson was a brain for his younger brother to pick regarding life as a pro athlete.
“It’s little things here and there, what to expect. But he knows coming out of college where he needs to be at and what kind of shape he needs to be in,” said Dahl. “From that aspect there isn’t much too tell him other than the grind of a pro season as opposed to a 35-game schedule in college.”
Jefferson knows all about that grind, having played in 180 regular season games for the Steelheads since arriving midway through the 2014-15 season. Few players approach 200 games with one team in the modern ECHL, but for Dahl he returns for his fourth season feeling right at home and happy with how his pro career in Idaho has come along.
“I’m very comfortable here, but I haven’t become complacent at all. The coaching staff and the organization push me every day to be a better player and a better person,” said Dahl.
“Coming in four years ago halfway through the year, I didn’t know how much I’d be playing or if I’d even have a chance. At that time, the staff gave me the chance to come in and have the opportunity in situations where I could succeed.”
Puck-drop on October 13th, and the training camp that precedes it, will be here soon enough for Jefferson. At that time the he’ll be able to fully set his sights on new milestones to conquer and Idaho’s first Kelly Cup since 2007.
Before that, being back in the Treasure Valley with a few weeks to spare, he’ll have to tend to a few other tasks first.
“We’re going to try to float the Boise River, and we’ve been up to Sun Valley a couple of times. But there are definitely a few things I need to check off my list in Boise before the season gets going.”