Steelheads return from long road trip with a revamped lineup

clangrill@idahostatesman.comJanuary 16, 2014 

IDAHO RETURNS HOME FOR WIN Steelheads forward Andrew Conboy showed off his physical style in his CenturyLink Arena debut Wednesday night as Idaho (19-12-4) defeated Utah 2-1. “Conboy made a couple of big hits that kind of ignited us and the crowd,” coach Brad Ralph said after his team rallied with two third-period goals. Goalie Pat Nagle (10-8-2) turned away 39-of-40 shots to earn the win. “Pat was our best player,” Ralph said.

KYLE GREEN — kgreen@idahostatesman.com

Prior to Wednesday night, the last time the Steelheads played a home game, the hockey presents were still under the Christmas tree.

Idaho went 4-3-0 in seven road games since Dec. 22, and showed up Wednesday with dramatic roster changes. Five players who skated in the 2-1 win over the Utah Grizzlies made their CenturyLink Arena debuts.

“It’s a great opportunity for our team,” coach Brad Ralph said. “I feel like we’ve been up and down and haven’t really caught our stride all year. So this is an opportunity to bring in some new players and find a group that works well together.”

Most of the new players appeared in the series against Colorado last weekend. The Steelheads lost the first game 3-0 and won the second 4-2.

“I thought our last game in Colorado we showed something we haven’t really showed all year,” Ralph said. “We had heart and we stood up physically to anything they threw at us. We kept going. It’s exciting to get these new players in here, and now we have some size and toughness, something we didn’t really have before.”

Here’s a quick introduction to each of the new players:

ANDREW CONBOY, FORWARD, 6-FOOT-4, 210 POUNDS, NO. 55

Conboy is the most experienced professional among the new group. The fifth-year pro has played 181 games in the AHL and ranked second in penalty minutes (116) and sixth in goals (13) for Hamilton in 2010-11.

“He brings some leadership to the team,” Ralph said. “He’s been around the AHL, ECHL, and he knows how to play the game. … He’ll play in all facets of the game.”

Conboy played in Europe and the CHL earlier this season.

“I’ve been packing some bags this year, but I’m really excited to get things rolling here,” said Conboy, 25.

Perhaps he’s found a team he can stick with for a while?

“You never know with the game of hockey and the business side of things,” he said. “But I want to be here.”

CHARLIE DODERO, DEFENSE,6-2, 200, NO. 91

The rookie was assigned to Idaho by Hartford of the AHL after opening the season with Greenville of the ECHL. The 21-year-old joined the Steelheads on Dec. 28 and has appeared in six games.

“He’s been good for us since day one,” Ralph said. “He’s going to bring it every night.”

Dodero had three assists in Idaho’s win in Colorado on Saturday night.

“Three assists is great, but I have to shut down the opposing team first,’’ he said. “I am a defenseman, first of all, but if I’m shutting down the other team, hopefully I can get some cookies at the other end.”

JOHNNY MCGUIRE, FORWARD, 6-1, 200, NO. 20

McGuire is one of two players who made his Steelheads debut Wednesday — and he didn’t have much time to prepare. He flew into Boise at about midnight Tuesday.

He already has a common bond with at least one teammate.

“It’s a quick turnaround for him,” Dodero said. “But I know how that feels, because I was that guy a few weeks ago in Vegas.”

It’s already been an eventful season for the 20-year-old McGuire. He broke some ribs at the start of the season before returning to play in five games with Rochester of the AHL.

He should bring some of that toughness that Ralph said his team has been lacking at times this season.

“I’m a really physical player, and I try to stir things up a bit,” McGuire said. “I’m by no means a goal-scorer, but I try to go out there and mix things up and give the guys some energy.”

STEVE WHITELY, DEFENSE, 6-5, 220, NO. 17

Whitely is an imposing presence on the ice, and he knows he needs to use his frame to his advantage.

“That’s one of the strengths I have to utilize,” Whitely said. “It’s an asset, and I have to do everything I can with it by using my reach and being physical.”

Whitely is a rookie, but he’s not a raw one. The 26-year-old played four seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and five seasons at the University of Waterloo in Canada.

“He’s got some pedigree,” Ralph said. “He’s a good pickup for us at this time of the year, for sure. We like what we’ve seen so far. … He can be a mainstay at this level.”

MATT WALTERS, DEFENSE, 6-0, 200, NO. 5

Walters is the wild card of the bunch. Prior to Wednesday, he hadn’t played in a game in 10 months. While some players opt to go pro as soon as their college seasons end, Walters chose to stay in school and secure his degree in financial economics.

“I had one semester left, and the life of a hockey player can be pretty short,” said Walters, who was twice named the defenseman of the year at the University of Toronto.

Having secured his degree in financial economics, Walters will turn his focus to hockey and see how far it can take him.

“I’m just here to see what happens and give it my best,” the 25-year-old said. “I’m going to win every one-on-one battle.”

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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