History, probability, and perhaps even common sense were all working against the Steelheads one week ago when they trailed 3-0 in their Mountain Division Semifinal series with the Allen Americans. The Americans had only lost one playoff series in their previous five seasons, and only one team in the 30-year history of the ECHL had survived a 3-0 deficit.
As we often say in the playoffs, you can throw the statistics out the window.
“I remember I was in the locker room between the second and third period and I overheard the television broadcast saying that it had only been done once before,” said Charlie Dodero, referencing the 2010 Cincinnati Cyclones team that overcame a 3-0 deficit in a conference final and went on to win a Kelly Cup. “That was the first time I ever heard about that. And I told the doctor to turn the TV off.”
The unique claim for the Cyclones is now a club, as the Steelheads won back-to-back games in Allen to send the series back to Boise and then closed out the series with two more wins at CenturyLink Arena. The Steelheads capped off the historic ‘reverse sweep’ with their first-ever Game 7 win, doing it on home ice.
“I think we all knew as a group what we could be better and what areas we could improve. I didn’t think there was a guy that didn’t believe when we went down 3-0 that we couldn’t win Game 4,” said Dodero. “And there wasn’t a guy when we were down 3-1 that didn’t believe we could win Game 5. We’re happy to be standing here now.”
Idaho’s comeback effort was a journey of transformation, from a team that faltered in the first half of the series against a patient Allen team to one that turned in some shutdown performances of its own in the latter half while skill players stepped up.
“We changed our systems. We changed our forecheck a little bit and that was huge,” said Tommy Thompson, who scored his first professional playoff goal to notch the game-winner in Game 7. “We stayed back a bit more and were a little bit less aggressive, and I think that helped us out.”
That renewed patience was key for a Steelheads team that knew they had to win four in a row, but also knew they could not win them all at once.
“I think it’s a lot of confidence right now, coming back from three games down and playing them one by one. Game 4 was a really big game for us and we kept going on from there by focusing on one period at a time.”
Philippe Desrosiers won all four games between the pipes, stopping all but six shots from Game 4 onward. Max French and Cole Ully dominated Game 6 along with defenseman Shane Hanna, while Game 7 highlighted the duo of Brady Brassart and Steve McParland.
Jefferson Dahl sealed the comeback with an empty-netter in the final minute on Wednesday night, igniting the CenturyLink Arena crowd of just over 3,000 fans.
“I’ve played here for parts of four seasons and I’ve played in numerous sold-out games,” said Dodero. “Nothing against those games, but last night was something special.”
The fact that only one other team has ever accomplished such a comeback is enough to show how grueling a path it can be. The Steelheads woke up with a mindset of desperation for seven straight days and continued to find ways to win. With all that work done, and still three playoff rounds remaining to reach their goal, players on Thursday were exhilarated and not exhausted.
“You work all season to get to this point, and you want to be in those situations. As a hockey player, it’s what you want,” said Dodero. “We’re extremely proud of what we accomplished. Obviously we don’t want to spot Colorado a 3-0 lead, but it was a good lesson for us to show we can break games down by periods and shifts and go from there.”
Rather than hit the reset button, the Steelheads may want to hang on to that desperate attitude against the defending Kelly Cup champion Eagles.
“I think the desperation will stay with us because we play our best hockey like that,” said Thompson. “You have to win Game 1 and you have to win the first shift.”
Game 7 was impressive, and fun for fans and players alike. The players celebrated that night, and they allowed themselves to linger for a while on Thursday as well, but now attention will turn to the next challenge.
“Looking back, it’s something that was special,” said Dodero. “But we’re going to put it in the bank and we’re going to move on.”