Bigger challenge lies ahead for Steelheads in Alaska

Top-seeded Aces possess ECHL's best record and the biggest ice in the league.

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comMay 1, 2014 

  • ALASKA VS. IDAHO: SERIES AT A GLANCE

    Season series: 6-6

    How they got here: No. 1 seed Alaska swept No. 8 Las Vegas in four games; No. 4 Idaho defeated No. 5 Colorado 4-2.

    Broadcast: All games are live on KTIK 1350 AM and Cable One 17.

    Tickets: Tickets for Game 3 (Monday) and Game 4 (Wednesday) are on sale at the CenturyLink Arena box office or at www.idahosteelheads.com. Tickets for Game 5 (May 8) will not go on sale until the game is definitely needed.

The Idaho Steelheads needed four overtimes to dispatch Colorado in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Their reward for winning the longest game in ECHL history: A quick turnaround to play the league's best team in one of the its toughest environments.

Fourth-seeded Idaho and top-seeded Alaska meet Thursday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals in Anchorage.

"They're a very good team, the best team in the league, the deepest team in the league," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said.

Alaska, the only team in the ECHL to play on larger Olympic-sized ice, owned the best overall winning percentage in the regular season and the league's top record at home. The Aces went 26-10 at home, outscoring opponents 122-72 on home ice.

International (or Olympic) rinks are 200 feet by 100 feet with 13 feet between the goal line and the end boards. Most North American rinks are 200 feet by 85 feet and have 11 feet between the goal line and the end boards. Ralph said CenturyLink Arena is slightly smaller than normal.

It doesn't seem like much, but the larger size creates a more free-flowing game with a premium on skating and crisp passing.

"Obviously the big ice is a big advantage for them," Ralph said. "It's something you can get accustomed to, something you can tailor your team to."

While the Steelheads were outlasting fifth-seeded Colorado in a tough six-game series that concluded with the longest game in ECHL history Monday night/Tuesday morning, the Aces were resting. Alaska crushed eighth-seeded Las Vegas in four games, outscoring the Wranglers 16-5 in the series.

Idaho scored 13 goals in six games against Colorado.

The Steelheads, however, have had success in Anchorage in two seasons under Ralph. Idaho is 5-3 in Alaska the past two years, including a 2-3 mark this season.

"We're a good team on big ice, too. We've got players that can skate," Ralph said.

The addition of college defenseman Scott Czarnowczan and Eamonn McDermott late in the season have helped in that department. McDermott played on Olympic-size ice in college at Colorado College.

"They're shifty D-men who can move the puck up the ice a lot faster," forward Brock Montgomery said.

Those young legs will certainly help Thursday night. While Idaho's marathon performance in Game 6 against Colorado could cost it in terms of speed and energy, Montgomery said the winning effort is paying other dividends.

"Looking back, it was something special," he said. "I think it's going to help us. It brought our team a lot closer together. We're looking at that as a positive."

Brian Murphy: 377-6444,Twitter: @MurphsTurph

SERIES SCHEDULE

Game 1: Thursday at Alaska, 9:15 p.m.

Game 2: Friday at Alaska, 9:15 p.m.

Game 3: Monday at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

Game 4: Wednesday at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

*Game 5: May 8 at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

*Game 6: May 10 at Alaska, 9:15 p.m.

*Game 7: May 11 at Alaska, 9:15 p.m.

* if necessary

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