For two teams that had never met prior to that weekend, the Steelheads and Adirondack Thunder wasted no time disliking each other in a three-game set at CenturyLink Arena in November. That included a fight-filled affair on November 11th and a 4-3 comeback win for the Steelheads.
In a game that featured ten fighting majors and four ejections, the Steelheads would need some rookie magic and Branden Komm’s shootout prowess to come out on top on Military Appreciation Night.
Adirondack started out in control scoring 7:42 into the first period on a right-wing shot by Ty Loney. The Thunder outshot the Steelheads 13-6 in the opening frame, but Idaho went to the room only trailing by the one goal and with a power play carrying over to the second period. They would not benefit from that advantage.
Just over a minute into the second period, Brian Ward broke behind the defense for a shorthanded breakaway, only to be pulled down by Charlie Dodero. Referee Chris Pontes awarded a penalty shot, and Ward’s backhand deke around Komm allowed him to lift the puck under the bar for a 2-0 Thunder lead.
The Steelheads would dominate the period from then on, outshooting the Thunder 18-5 but unable to beat goaltender Mason McDonald. In the meantime, the hostility picked up.
“We were on the wrong side of a couple of breaks early, but I liked the way we were competing,” said Head Coach Neil Gaham. “We had a huge second period and didn’t have anything to show for it on the scoreboard, but I thought momentum was starting to turn our way a bit.”
Ward and Dodero would meet again midway through the period, this time dropping the gloves. Dodero sought Ward out following an offside whistle, feeding right hands in the corner as Idaho tried to find a spark. Zach Bell and Keegan Kanzig would earn unsportsmanlike conducts in the second period as well, a precursor to their own fight in the third period when both men went down and Bell would emerge bleeding but beaming.
Seven minutes into the third, Idaho finally broke through thanks to their top scoring line during the season. Brandon Anselmini slid a point shot through traffic that McDonald fought off, but the rebound sat right on the doorstep for Rob Linsmayer. Linsmayer tucked a backhand behind McDonald for his fourth goal of the season.
The trio of Linsmayer, Jefferson Dahl, and Will Merchant struck again to tie the game six and a half minutes later on the power play. In tic-tac-toe fashion, Dahl fed Linsmayer in the corner and Linsmayer zipped a quick feed for a Merchant one-timer in the slot to tie the game. Merchant’s third goal of the season, all on the power play, gave Idaho ten power play tallies in 12 games.
The Thunder weren’t going to let the Steelheads back in that easily, as they retook a 3-2 lead less than two minutes later. Gunnar Hughes collected a rebound off the end boards and slid it under Komm with 4:32 remaining. Idaho still had more tricks up its sleeve.
“We had battled so hard to tie the game, and for them to go up again a few shifts later it would have been easy for us to just let it go and think we’d had our chance,” said Graham. “I thought the guys responded great.”
With 3:09 left, David Glen pulled the Steelheads even again. Charlie Dodero carried the puck into the Thunder zone on the right wing, a 2-on-2 rush with Glen. In tight space, Dodero sent a perfect pass on Glen’s tape, allowing him to reach past the defender and redirect the puck past McDonald for his second career goal to force overtime.
In OT, the bad blood returned. The opening minute of the extra session saw Adirondack’s Alex Wall upend Dahl behind the net with a dangerous-looking trip. Linsmayer responded by going after Wall, and soon all six players on the ice were engaged. Mikkel Aagaard and Greg Wolfe were both ejected for the Thunder, as were Anselmini and Dahl.
“Any time you see guys battling and going to war for each other, it’s huge,” said Graham.
When play resumed, Branden Komm would make the save of the night. On a 2-on-1 rush, Peter MacArthur would feather a pass across to the back post for a wide-open Hughes. Komm stretched across with the right pad to kick the puck off the goal line, helping force a shootout where he would have to be brilliant again.
Komm was a shootout specialist during the season, stopping 13 of 14 attempts against and going 4-0 for the year. He had already stopped all four shots against in a shootout win over Reading earlier in the season. After being beaten on a penalty shot earlier in the game, Komm stopped all four shootout attempts sent his way
McDonald was nearly as good in stopping the first three he faced, but Kyle Jean’s fake slap shot that opened his legs would provide the window for the eventual game-winner.
The win put Idaho over the .500 mark, while Dahl’s points streak reached ten games.