BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Steelheads played the best regular season in ECHL history, that is now a fact. It was a dramatic end in Rapid City, an overtime win to cap off an incredible season.
Regular season champions is fantastic, but it goes without saying, it is not the ultimate goal for the Steelheads. They kick off that goal Wednesday at 7:10 p.m., with game one of the ECHL playoffs. Recently named
ECHL Coach of the Year Everett Sheen explains the balance of regular season success heading into post season play.
“Don't rely on it by any stretch of the imagination, but there’s a lot of valuable learning lessons throughout the year," Sheen said. "One goal games, comeback games, essentially three playoff series, playing teams six times in a row. So, you definitely look back and reflect and take those learning experiences,” said Sheen.
A best of seven playoff hockey series is a special intensity, add the fact that Idaho hosts a very familiar team, a border rival in the Utah Grizzlies.
“Feeling excited. You know, we've seen Utah quite a bit – 18 times. We're quite familiar with them," Sheen said. "So, it's more just looking after all the details of our game and not necessarily having to do a deep dive on a team, seeing if they have any quirks or tendencies because like I said, we've seen them quite a bit and just from couple of weeks ago, so we should be ready to go."
Steelheads Captain A.J. White knows Utah will be a test. It’s a team that really challenged Idaho at home.
“They have a lot of skill. They like to take their chances offensively, which is why we need to be smart and detailed in our defensive zone," White said. "As long as we kind of make them play our game style and not try to play their game style, I think that's where we have our success."
With a list of league records, ECHL season-end awards, and the number one seed in the league, Idaho certainly has the attention of the hockey world.
“We kind of talked about that for briefly this morning, and I think coach said it the best. He kind of said we've got a target on our backs since early December when we went to Worcester and they were the first place team in the league and we swept them to become the first place team in the league and we’ve been ever since," White said. "So, I think that's kind of our mindset. We know everybody's going to come in and give us their best every night and that's kind of how it's been all year."
Coach Sheen agrees.
“Teams at this point of the year are pretty dialed, like it's going to be tough to score goals and it should be hard, heavy hitting hockey," Sheen said. "You know, every game is competitive because each team's trying to just survive and get through to the next round. So, it's just a little bit more on the table."
A major storyline in the Utah-Idaho series is goaltending. Netminders Adam Scheel for Idaho and Trent Miner for Utah are set for a classic battle.
“We feel confident with whoever's in net and Adam, he has been incredible for us this year, especially over the last three months," White said. "It's been arguably the best goalie in the league, probably could have been goalie of the month that every month every month. So, Trent Miner has been good as well. He definitely finds a way to make that first save. So, it's going to be crucial for us to make sure we get a lot of pucks on net."
So yes, the stats speak for themselves. But beyond the numbers, what are the intangibles that make this a special team. According to Sheen, it is how connected the Steelheads are.
“An hour after practice, they're all still down in the locker room. You'll have to basically kick them out," Sheen said. "They just love being around each other and playing together. You know, they hold each other accountable the right way and then they're each other's biggest cheerleaders. So, it's just a really special group to be a part of."
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