Preview: Battle on Two Fronts

The Steelheads wrap up their season-opening home stand with their first Mountain Division action of the year, hosting the Grizzlies on Wednesday and Friday. The series won’t stop there, as both teams will head over to West Valley for another meeting on Saturday night at Maverik Center, Idaho’s first road game of the 2017-18 campaign.

The Steelheads opened the year with a split against the Norfolk Admirals, winning their home opener on Friday night before the Admirals bounced back on Saturday. Norfolk then went off to Utah where they skated to a 5-3 win over the Grizzlies, pushing Utah to an 0-3-0 record to start the season. The Grizzlies dropped both ends of a home-and-home with Colorado to start the season.

It’s a revamped roster for the Grizzlies this season, after losing some important contributors in the summer and bringing in a few recognizable Mountain Division names to replace them. 2016-17 leading scorer Erik Bradford and defenseman Tim Daly were both in Utah on Monday, but both as members of the Admirals. Another top rookie from last season, Ralph Cuddemi, is now in Fort Wayne, while Austen Brassard is in Toledo and Mathieu Aubin is in Allen.

To restock their roster, the Grizzlies benefited from the demise of the Alaska Aces. Peter Sivak, who was an All-Star last season for the Aces and finished fifth in the ECHL with 35 goals, is without a point in his first two games with Utah. The Grizzlies also brought in former Aces defenseman Mitch Jones and goaltender Kevin Carr. Carr won 18 games with Alaska last season, and he surrendered three goals in a losing effort in his only appearance this year on Opening Night.

The Grizzlies also signed forward Greger Hanson after he had spent three of the previous four years with the Allen Americans and won two Kelly Cups. Hanson had his best season last year with 35 goals and 76 points, and he has a goal and an assist in three games with Utah.

The Steelheads will look to continue an encouraging trend from their first two games, in which they cracked the 40-shot mark both times and twice recorded 22 shots in a period.

Tommy Thompson netted his first Steelheads goal on Saturday in the closing seconds and has three points in Idaho’s two contests. Forwards Brady Brassart, Steve McParland, Jefferson Dahl, and Mitch Moroz also had multi-point performances in the first weekend of the season.

Dahl will be in search of his first goal during the series after recording two goals and 11 points against Utah last year. Joe Faust enjoyed playing against Utah as well, totaling three goals and eight points.

The Steelheads generate plenty of offense, but will look for more finish 5-on-5. Of the Steelheads seven goals, by seven different goal scorers, four have come at 5-on-5 including a Thompson goal in the last ten seconds of Friday’s 5-3 defeat. The penalty kill has been dangerous, scoring two shorthanded goals on eight penalty kills.

 

The Steelheads finished last season 4-4-3 against Utah, but won the last three meetings between the teams with a sweep of the Grizzlies at Maverik Center in February. Idaho won both of the preseason exhibition games against Utah, outscoring them 7-3 over the two nights and, again, doing so with seven different goal-scorers.

 

STEELHEAD TO WATCH

Corbin Baldwin is arguably one of the top defensive blue-liners in the ECHL, and he will be available for the Steelheads for his first action of the season this Wednesday. Baldwin served a two-game suspension for an elbowing penalty in the preseason and can now return to add some snarl to the back end. Baldwin has regularly earned top shutdown and penalty-killing minutes over the past two seasons, in which he played all 72 games both years. The Steelheads penalty kill surrendered two goals without Baldwin in the first two games, but also scored two shorthanded goals and was perfect on Saturday. The veteran defenseman is a plus-38 over his two seasons in Idaho.

 

GRIZZLY TO WATCH

Among the returning Grizzlies, one forward certainly enjoyed seeing the Steelheads on the schedule last year. Jon Puskar put up 22 goals and 43 points last season, with six goals and 13 points coming against the Steelheads. Puskar failed to record a point against Idaho in only two of the eleven meetings, and 11 of those points came at 5-on-5. Puskar has one goal in Utah’s first three games but has fired 13 shots in that time. His aggressive work on the forecheck and around the net could prove effective for Utah, especially with Sivak and Hanson likely to be attracting tough defensive pairings.
KEY MATCHUP

The Steelheads noted their starts to games as being significant after the first two contests. They had 22 shots on goal and a 1-0 lead at the end of one period on Friday night, but they didn’t’ have quite the same sharpness early on Saturday and trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes despite 13 shots and two power plays. The Grizzlies played two close games in their opening series with Colorado but were dominated in the first period against the Admirals, trailing 3-0 after one period and surrendering the three goals in just over six minutes to close out the opening frame. Facing a Grizzlies team trying to scratch its way into the win column, the Steelheads will want to be on target moving the puck early and to continue getting the puck to the net. Utah has given up 10 goals in three games despite not yielding more than 30 shots in any of those contests.