Idaho Steelheads' third line has proven crucial in ECHL playoffs

Trio of de Kastrozza, Robinson and Taylor are providing needed spark.

clangrill@idahostatesman.comMay 3, 2013 

Justin Taylor celebrates a goal against Ontario during the ECHL Western Conference Semifinals last weekend. The Idaho Steelheads scored just 14 times in five regular-season meetings with Stockton, but only one game was at CenturyLink Arena in Boise. That game was a 4-2 Idaho victory Nov. 14, and the Steelheads have home-ice advantage in this series.

OTTO KITSINGER — For the Idaho Statesman

  • SERIES PREVIEW

    HOW THEY GOT HERE

    Idaho, the No. 3 seed, won its opening series over Colorado 4-2 and its semifinal series against Ontario 4-2. Stockton, the No. 4 seed, won its opening series versus Las Vegas 4-3 and defeated Alaska 4-2 in the semifinals.

    IDAHO PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Austin Smith: The forward is a natural goal-scorer. He had five goals in Idaho's opening-round series against Colorado, and one against Ontario in the semifinals. When he gets rolling, the Steelheads get rolling.

    Chase Schaber/Tyler Gron: These two forwards have each scored two game-winning goals in the postseason. Three of those came in one-goal games, so keep an eye on them in tight games.

    Josh Robinson/Tyler Beskorowany: Robinson (4-2-1) comes into the series with the hot hand after winning three straight games to close out Ontario. Beskorowany (4-1-0) is waiting in the wings for another opportunity. Each has notched a shutout in the playoffs.

    STOCKTON PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Ryan Hayes: The forward leads the Thunder with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in the postseason. He played for three ECHL teams in the regular season, but clearly has found a home in the playoffs.

    Harrison Reed: The forward led the team with 45 points (21 goals, 24 assists) in the regular season. He has 12 points in 13 postseason games. A veteran with plenty of experience in the ECHL and AHL.

    Olivier Roy: The goaltender leads the ECHL with 13 games played in the postseason, and has an 8-5-0 record. Roy lags behind both Idaho goaltenders in save percentage (.899) and goals-against average (2.95).

    THE STEELHEADS WIN IF …

    They can find a way to slow down Stockton's speed. "They're up and down the ice as a unit, a very difficult team to play against," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said. "All year, they were the hardest to play against." The Steelheads will need to counter with their playmakers on offense and their depth and talent on defense.

    THE THUNDER WILL WIN IF …

    The hockey gods continue to shine on Stockton. The Thunder have been on an amazing run late in games in the postseason. They trailed 3-0 in the third period in Game 6 of their opening-round series against Las Vegas and went on to win the series in seven games. They scored with 5 seconds remaining in regulation in Game 6 of the semifinals against Alaska and went on to win the game in overtime. They have four comeback wins after trailing at the second intermission. Can they find more magic against the Steelheads?

    Chris Langrill: 377-6424

— Through most of the regular season, Idaho Steelheads fans knew who to watch when a big offensive play was needed.

There was Austin Smith, a dynamic goal-scorer. Or Tyler Gron, who was tied for second in the ECHL in goals scored before coming to Idaho and continued to make plays as a Steelhead. Rookie Austin Fyten earned all-star honors for his offensive ability.

But when it came time for Idaho to play Game 6 of its semifinal series against the Ontario Reign on Tuesday, it was the unsung heroes of the third line who lifted the Steelheads to a series-clinching victory.

Forward David de Kastrozza scored the first goal of the game in the first period. Linemate Brett Robinson scored Idaho's second goal. The third goal? You guessed it. Justin Taylor scored that one, as Robinson and de Kastrozza notched the assists.

By the game's end, Robinson had two goals and an assist, and Taylor and de Kastrozza each finished with a goal and an assist in a 5-3 victory. That's a lot of production from even a top line.

"That's the playoffs," coach Brad Ralph said. "You need different lines stepping up and contributing. We certainly got that."

Ralph can only hope for more of the same as the Steelheads open the Western Conference Finals against the Stockton Thunder at 7:10 p.m. Friday at CenturyLink Arena.

"Every year in the playoffs, the team that goes the furthest is the one with the most depth," said Robinson, who played for the Cincinnati team that defeated Idaho in the 2010 Kelly Cup Finals.

"We're really proud of that line, for sure," Ralph said. "It's good to see, because those guys work hard and they don't always get the credit they deserve."

The timing of the line's offensive production couldn't have been better.

"(Ontario's) style smothered and stalled some of our top-end players," Ralph said.

Taylor said Idaho can expect other teams to try to do the same.

"When it comes down to it, our top guys are going to get keyed on," said Taylor, who will be playing in his third ECHL conference finals. "That's when our secondary scorers need to step up."

Robinson and de Kastrozza have each been healthy scratches in the postseason. Neither player enjoyed watching from the stands, but both said there may have been a positive end result.

"It definitely lit a fire under my butt when (Ralph) held me out of that game," said de Kastrozza, who played more games than any other Steelhead in the regular season (66). "It was a good decision by him. I really wasn't playing that well, and I wasn't producing."

Said Ralph: "We took him out of the lineup, but when he came back he was a difference-maker. When he's going, he's a force."

Robinson said the message was clear for him, too.

"Coach had been, not calling guys out, but saying that everyone has got to contribute," he said.

After a 72-game regular season and a few playoff series, that's becoming increasingly obvious.

"It's a grind, no doubt," he said. "We just finished an emotional, physical series, and a few days later we're starting another emotional, physical - even harder - series. … That's why we need different guys stepping up."

The way Robinson sees it, it might as well be him and his linemates.

"We feel good as a line, and we're really clicking right now," Robinson said. "So we've just got to bring that into the next round."

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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