Idaho Steelheads a first-place hockey team as gritty Travis Ewanyk provides a spark

Steelheads forward Travis Ewanyk, left, is tied for first on the team in goals (seven) and leads in penalty minutes (33).
Steelheads forward Travis Ewanyk, left, is tied for first on the team in goals (seven) and leads in penalty minutes (33). Provided by Idaho Steelheads

After spending his first three pro seasons in the American Hockey League, forward Travis Ewanyk entered unfamiliar territory this offseason by signing with the ECHL’s Idaho Steelheads.

Some players might have viewed the move as a demotion. But Ewanyk embraced the lower league as a chance to expand his resume — and he’s taking full advantage of the opportunity.

Through 17 games, Ewanyk has established a new career high with 13 points. His fast, physical play has earned him time on coach Neil Graham’s power play and penalty kill units.

“As a young guy coming into the AHL, it was hard to find ice time,” said Ewanyk, a former third-round pick of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. “I was playing more of a third- or fourth-line role, where it’s tough to put up points. Coming here, I wanted to show I was a more well-rounded player, and playing higher minutes has put a lot of fun back into the game for me.”

Ewanyk has five goals and eight points in his last eight games. His hot streak has helped fuel the first-place Steelheads, who are 10-2-1 over the past month.

“I think we’ve found our game,” Ewanyk said. “We are playing a full 60 minutes, and for me personally, I’ve been really focusing on keeping it simple and shooting the puck. I think when you put the puck on net as often as possible, good things will happen.”

In the AHL, Ewanyk was known as a player who was unafraid to stick up for a teammate or do the dirty work in front of the net or along the boards. Those characteristics have carried over to his play in Idaho, along with an increase in scoring production.

“Travis is a hard worker who finishes hits and plays with a lot of energy,” Graham said. “He’s scoring more points now, but he hasn’t changed who he is. He’s earned a bigger role by playing the same way.”

Versatility has also served Ewanyk well. He has played on a variety of lines in different situations, allowing Graham to shuffle his lineup in response to injuries or AHL call-ups. Ewanyk has found success playing with Joe Basaraba and Anthony Luciani — two players who have joined Ewanyk in stuffing the scoresheet during Idaho’s current seven-game points streak (6-0-1).

“I’ve had good chemistry with those guys,” he said. “(Luciani) and (Basaraba) also play a hard game and like to shoot the puck, so we are a tough group to handle out there.”

No matter who he is paired with, Ewanyk can be counted on to give a tough, physical effort. And for Graham, that makes him an invaluable piece to the Steelheads’ puzzle.

“Hockey is a game of opportunity,” Graham said. “Personal success largely depends on the role players are put in, but we’re looking for guys who are okay with playing any role that leads to team success. We have a lot of those guys, and (Ewanyk) is one who is doing a nice job of that.”

NOTES: Idaho is 6-0-1 over its last seven games, while Alaska is on a five-game winning streak. ... The Steelheads are tied atop the Mountain Division standings, with the Aces lurking one point behind. ... Saturday’s game will feature the annual Teddy Bear Toss for Tots. After the Steelheads’ first goal, fans are encouraged to throw a new, unbreakable stuffed or plush toy onto the ice. Toys will be collected by the U.S. Marine Corps and donated to its Toys for Tots campaign.

Steelheads host Alaska this week

  • Who: vs. Alaska Aces
  • When: 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday
  • Where: CenturyLink Arena
  • Radio/TV: KTIK 1350 AM/Cable One 72
  • Tickets: CenturyLink Arena box office or