A few short weeks ago, the Idaho Steelheads' success on defense appeared to hinge on whether Patrick Cullity and Jeremie Blain would remain with the team or get called up to the AHL.
Both earned call-ups.
However, those defensive holes were plugged when Matt Case and Jace Coyle were reassigned from AHL teams.
"It was a significant difference for us (when they rejoined the team in Alaska last week)," coach Brad Ralph said.
That's good news for Steelheads fans, but not necessarily for Case and Coyle. The two enjoy playing for Idaho, but ultimately they'd prefer to play in the AHL, where they are one level away from the NHL.
"I guess on some level, it's disappointing," said Coyle, who scored the game-winning goal in Idaho's 3-0 victory over the Ontario Reign on Friday night. "My goal was to (be in Texas) this year. You've just got to roll with it."
It's not the first time for Coyle, either. He's racked up the airline miles flying between Boise and Austin, Texas, this season.
"It's been a different year," Coyle said. "I've lived out of suitcases for the majority of the year."
Ralph recognizes being sent up and down can be tough on a player, both mentally and physically.
"It's a difficult situation to be in, where you really don't know where you're going to be the next day. But (Coyle) has managed it very well."
Case is the longest-tenured player on Idaho's roster. He has the top plus/minus rating in the ECHL (plus-32), and he's having a career year offensively with 38 points, so he is certainly on the radar of AHL teams.
But after appearing in five games with Manchester, Case was back in a Steelheads uniform.
"I went up there and felt pretty good about my game," Case said. "It went the way it went, and I did the best I could."
Both Coyle and Case said if there's a positive in returning to Idaho, it's that they are coming back to a winning team. And each has contributed to the team's success.
"My goal is to get up to the AHL, but we're doing something pretty special here, and we want to keep it rolling and see where we can take it," Case said. "The ultimate goal is to win championships, and we have a team here that can do some damage."
Idaho plays four more regular-season contests, so the postseason is on players' minds.
"If I'm here for the playoffs, I'll embrace that," said Coyle, who has eight goals and 19 assists in 34 games with Idaho. "I've been down here so much this season that I just think, 'This is our team and I want to go as far as we can.'"
GAME NOTES: Friday's game was the Steelheads' seventh straight against an ECHL division-leading team. They went 5-2 in those contests. Rookie goalie Josh Robinson (27-7-4) stopped 30 shots to earn his fifth shutout. Forward David Toews scored Idaho's second goal, and Austin Smith scored an empty-netter for his team-leading 27th goal of the season. Idaho (43-18-7) will host Ontario in its final home game of the regular season Saturday night.