Steelheads try to end Reign in ECHL second round

Meanwhile, Idaho rookie defenseman hopes to snap out of 162-game scoring slump.

clangrill@idahostatesman.comApril 19, 2013 

Steelheads forward Austin Smith led all rookies in the ECHL with 27 goals in the regular season. He continued to have a hot hand in the first round of the playoffs, as he had five goals against Colorado, best among rookies and tied for second overall. Smith said it will be important for Idaho to stay disciplined against a physical Ontario team. "We don't want to put them on the power play. I think we've been a really good team, five-on-five, all year," he said. "If we stay out of the (penalty) box, we'll give ourselves a good chance."

CHRIS BUTLER — Statesman file

  • ROUND 2 PREVIEW

    HOW THEY GOT HERE

    Idaho defeated Colorado 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs; Ontario defeated Utah 4-0.

    SERIES SCHEDULE

    • Tonight: Idaho at Ontario, 8 p.m.

    • Saturday: Idaho at Ontario, 7 p.m.

    • Wednesday: Ontario at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

    • Friday, April 26: Ontario at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

    • Saturday, April 27: Ontario at Idaho, 7:10 p.m. (if necessary)

    • Tuesday, April 30: Idaho at Ontario, 8 p.m. (if necessary)

    • Wednesday, May 1: Idaho at Ontario, 8 p.m. (if necessary)

    IDAHO PLAYERS TO WATCH

    • Adrian Foster: The forward tallied at least a point in each game of the Colorado series. He leads the Steelheads with eight points (two goals, six assists).

    • Tyler Gron: The forward can be hot and cold, but when he's hot he's one of Idaho's most dangerous offensive weapons. He had three goals and four assists in the opening-round series.

    • Matt Case: The steady defenseman tallied six points (three goals, three assists) against Colorado, which ties him for first among D-men in the postseason.

    ONTARIO PLAYERS TO WATCH

    • Jean-Francois Berube: The goalie earned all four wins in Ontario's first-round sweep of Utah. He is third among ECHL goalies in the playoffs with a 1.46 goals-against average and fourth with a .939 save percentage.

    • Kyle Kraemer: The Reign's leading point-producer in the regular season (30 goals, 41 assists) has kept it up in the playoffs, leading Ontario with seven points (two goals, five assists).

    • Derek Couture: The team captain is a 28-year-old veteran with more than 300 games in the AHL. He was a top scorer in the regular season and notched six points (one goal, five assists) in four playoff games against Utah.

    THE STEELHEADS WILL WIN IF ...

    They show up every night. They fell behind Colorado 5-0 before losing 7-4 in Game 5 of the opening-round series. This series promises to be evenly matched, and the Steelheads can't afford to give any games away. Idaho needs consistency, and it needs its skill to outshine Ontario's physical style.

    THE REIGN WILL WIN IF …

    They get under the Steelheads' skin and force mistakes and penalties. "They're a big, physical, emotional team," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said. "They're going to test us internally. Are we going to be able to withstand the physicality of the game and play our style? That to me is the biggest question."

He shoots … and he scores!

It's a phrase that is commonplace in the hockey world.

But it's not a phrase that Steelheads defenseman John Ryder hears much, at least when describing his own play.

Ryder hasn't scored a goal in 162 games, dating to his rookie year at the University of Denver. He takes that drought into Friday night's Game 1 of the ECHL Western Conference semifinals in Ontario, Calif. The game starts at 8.

"I guess I'd like to score a goal," the 6-foot, 200-pounder said. "It's kind of embarrassing not to score.

"There's been a lot of ones that came close."

Ryder can rattle off the close calls with ease.

"I had an empty-netter that I missed by about 6 inches in Alaska.

"In Bakersfield, around Christmas … I came out of the (penalty) box for a breakaway. I went high glove, and (the goalie) just barely got it.

"Then I had one off of (teammate Justin) Taylor. I saw the whole thing. I had that straight shot and it went off Taylor and into the net. I knew it wasn't my goal the second it left my stick."

Ryder was initially credited by officials for the goal, only to have it taken away.

His most recent close call came last Friday in a series-clinching win over Colorado.

"I put it off the crossbar in the last game," Ryder said. "It went off the crossbar, the goal light came on, and my hands were already up. I think a couple of guys' hands were up, from what they said."

Alas, no goal.

Austin Smith, Idaho's leading goal scorer, chuckles when asked about Ryder's bad luck.

"I just think it's kind of funny at this point, especially after he's hit a couple of posts and a crossbar," Smith said. "We keep telling him he's going to get one."

Truth be told, however, Ryder doesn't need to score to make an impact. Smith recalled a hit Ryder made on an Eagles player in the Colorado series that brought the players on the bench to their feet.

"That was huge, and he kind of gives us momentum that way," Smith said. "He keeps the puck out of the net. That's what you need, you need some good stay-at-home D-men."

Coach Brad Ralph knows that as well as anyone.

"(Ryder) has been a punishing force on the back end," Ralph said. "He's just a stay-at-home, physical defenseman, which we need in our lineup. If your head's down, he's going to find you and put you on your back."

Ryder's presence will be especially important in the semifinals against a physical Ontario squad.

"They're strong around the net, and they're strong in the corners," Smith said of the Reign. "So we're going to need guys like him who will stand up and play strong defensively that way."

Ryder has taken some good-natured ribbing from his teammates, but they know as well as he does that scoring goals isn't his role.

"I'm not too worried about the fact that I haven't scored," Ryder said. "I just do what I do and hope the team wins."

And when Ryder is excelling at what he does, he can be as important defensively as Smith is on the offensive end of the ice.

"Toward the end of the year, we were trying to put him in a few (scoring) situations," Ralph said. "But it's not something I think he worries about. He's just so good at a lot of other things."

WHO'S IN NET?

Rookie goalie Josh Robinson returned to the Steelheads on Wednesday after getting called up to the Texas Stars of the AHL prior to Game 6 of Idaho's opening-round playoff series. Tyler Beskorowany got the win in net as Idaho eliminated Colorado. Ralph wasn't prepared to declare a starter before the team traveled to Ontario on Thursday. "I haven't decided 100 percent," Ralph said. "But it's always good to have your team MVP back, and we'll get (Robinson) up and rolling at some point in the series."

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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