The Steelheads earned an important two points on Saturday night against the Wheeling Nailers, giving them four of the available six points against another playoff-caliber team and helping them back into the win column after a bumpy month of February.
Yet midway through the contest, the Steelheads found themselves behind. That’s when Anthony Luciani took over the game, putting forth his best performance as a Steelhead.
Luciani, the team’s leading goal-scorer and point scorer, netted his third career-hat trick in the final 31:02 of game play. Luciani also recorded the first four-point game by a Steelhead this season, as his line accounted for all five Idaho goals.
“It was a great line combination working with (Bryce Van Brabant) and (David Glen). We were clicking,” said Luciani. “I like to think that there are times when I’m frustrated after games when I’ve had seven or eight chances and none of them went in. But it felt like Saturday it was the opposite that was happening because everything was going in.”
Everything was going in for Luciani, who scored his first goal with a sharp-angled snipe over Doug Carr’s shoulder, a shot from outside and below the face-off dot. Luciani scored a more conventional goal for his second tally on a 2-on-1, but his final puck past Carr was the product of a great individual effort.
The Steelheads worked on their battles below the goal line at Wednesday ‘s practice, attacking the net from the corners and making plays around the back of the net. In Saturday’s third period, Luciani was in on the forecheck alone when he went behind the net and stripped Christian Hilbrich of the puck.
“I put pressure on him and he put it in my lap. I was able to cut the corner and score,” said Luciani. “We work on that stuff a lot in practice. Certain moves you practice a lot and that was kind of a muscle-memory thing.”
The Steelheads knew what kind of an offensive talent they were getting in Luciani when they signed him in the off-season. With 290 points in 300 professional games, Luciani can be an impact player every night.
”He’s a very dynamic hockey player and he can change the momentum of a game,” said Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham. “The goals were obviously great, but I thought the energy he brought in some of his second efforts on backchecks created turnovers in our favor and odd-man rushes in our favor. Those are the bigger things I took away from it, seeing his hustle on both sides of the puck.”
With that kind of jump, Luciani was around the puck for Idaho all night long. His ten shots on goal were the most by a Steelhead in a game this season.
“It didn’t feel like I had ten, but when you look at it with ten shots and three goals is pretty good. I want to score on every single opportunity that I get,” said Luciani. “Obviously you can’t, but some days a player will score four or five goals and you’ll think ‘wow’ to yourself, but that guy just was able to bear down on his opportunities.”
The Steelheads were certainly able to bear down on their opportunity, picking up a series win before heading off to Utah to face a hard-charging Grizzlies team. The 5-1 win wasn’t just a feel-good night for Luciani.
“I think we needed that. Now things are not as stressed,” said Luciani. “The boys are a bit more relaxed now. Saturday we came together and now we need to keep it rolling heading into Utah.”