Life as a rookie athlete is supposed to be difficult. Regardless of the sport, first-year pros face tough adjustments, bigger and faster opponents, a more demanding schedule and the mental strain of playing to keep a job every single day.
Steelheads rookie Travis Walsh is making things look easy.
The smooth-skating defenseman out of Michigan State has made a seamless transition to pro hockey, mixing heady defensive play with timely scoring. It’s a combination that has quickly earned Walsh the trust of his teammates — as well as a spot in the ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 18.
“I was shocked by it, honestly,” Walsh said. “We have a lot of really good players having great seasons, so I’m really honored to be chosen. We have a great coaching staff and awesome veterans who have made it really easy for me to step right in and transition from college.’’
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Skill-wise, Walsh’s attributes are obvious. He skates extremely well, is a good puck handler and has a heavy, accurate shot — one that will be on display during the Hardest Shot portion of the All-Star skills competition.
But if you ask his teammates and coaches, it’s Walsh’s mental game that sets him apart.
“Travis carries himself like a veteran player,” coach Neil Graham said. “He’s very savvy about when to stay back and when to join the offensive rush, and he’s great at bouncing back from mistakes and not letting it affect his play going forward.”
Said Idaho captain Jefferson Dahl: “He’s a guy you can rely on. I see him getting better each game, becoming more confident. It’s a big boost for the team when your D-men are scoring key goals, so that’s been huge for us this year.”
Walsh has five goals and 14 points in 33 games, ranking among the top 10 for rookie defensemen in all three categories. His scoring is part of a noticeable offensive spike by Idaho’s blue liners this season. Joe Faust (23 points) leads all ECHL defensemen with 10 goals, while Walsh, Brandon Anselmini (12) and Charlie Dodero (10) have reached double-digit points.
“It’s something we addressed this offseason,” Graham said. “We wanted to activate our defensemen with the way we break out of our zone, and the production we’re getting has been a big part of our success so far.”
In spite of his cool confidence on the ice, Walsh didn’t anticipate being named an All-Star as a rookie. He wasn’t sure what to expect until he had his “welcome to the pros” moment in an early-season game against Utah.
“I was watching the game from the stands and I thought, ‘Wow, there’s a lot of good players out there,’” he said. “In college, you hear a lot of different things about the ECHL, but in that moment, I realized the caliber of players we have in this league. You really have to work at it, because you’re not going to just coast along and keep your job.”
And Walsh has continued to work at his craft, soaking up knowledge and experience from Graham and the team’s veteran players. Next week, his efforts will pay off with an All-Star appearance.
“Making an All-Star game in his first season is well-earned,” Graham said. “It’s definitely something Travis can build on for the second half of the season, and as he continues to grow as a hockey player.”
Idaho hosts Colorado for three
- When: 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
- Where: CenturyLink Arena
- Radio/TV: 1350 AM/Cable One channel 72
- Tickets: CenturyLink Arena box office or idahosteelheads.com
- Notable: Idaho trails Colorado and Allen by two points in the Mountain Division. The Steelheads are 2-2-1 vs. Colorado this year (all on the road). … Idaho is 4-0-1 in its last five games. ... Anthony Luciani has a three-game goal scoring streak, and Will Merchant has eight points in his last four games…Wednesday’s game is the halfway point of Idaho’s 72-game regular season. ... Forward Mike McMurtry, 24, has been assigned to Idaho by the AHL affiliate Texas Stars.