During the first half of the 2014-2015 season, goaltender Olivier Roy was the Steelheads’ unquestioned team MVP.
The workhorse net-minder anchored coach Brad Ralph’s team night-in and night-out, leading the ECHL in wins through Jan. 30 while earning league All-Star honors.
On Jan. 31, Roy sustained what was thought to be a minor lower-body injury. But as weeks went by, Roy remained sidelined — until Wednesday. Roy returned to the lineup and picked up right where he left off, flummoxing the rival Alaska Aces in a 5-0 shutout victory at CenturyLink Arena.
“It’s really fun to be part of the group again,” Roy said. “It was painful to sit out for two months, but the guys did an incredible job during my absence, and I’m just going to try and keep us rolling.”
Roy’s return comes with the Kelly Cup Playoffs less than two weeks away. Just three regular-season games remain — all on home ice — as the Pacific Division-leading Steelheads gear up for what they hope will be a long playoff run.
Playing deep into the postseason is familiar territory for Roy, who helped backstop Alaska to the 2014 Kelly Cup championship less than 12 months ago.
“Your goaltender is your most important player, especially this time of year,” Ralph said. “And Olivier is a great goalie. He’s been out a long time — definitely longer than we expected — but we’re excited to have him back.”
While Roy’s two-month layoff was a tough break, the Steelheads fared remarkably well in his absence. Idaho posted an 18-3-1-1 record, using three different goaltenders to fill his skates.
Early on, current (AHL) Texas Stars teammates Henri Kiviaho and Jack Campbell shouldered the load. Kiviaho, who has split time between Idaho and Texas this year, went 5-1-1 as the starter, while Campbell, a former No. 1 NHL Draft choice of the Dallas Stars, posted a 5-2 mark.
In March, the mantle passed to second-year pro Chris Rawlings, who won his first eight starts and still is yet to lose in regulation (8-0-0-1). The 6-foot-5 Rawlings served as the backup Wednesday, but his experience as the starter is sure to come in handy if his number gets called in the playoffs.
“Chris is a heck of a goalie,” Ralph said. “He came in at a time when we were pretty desperate, and he did a great job giving us a chance to win every night.”
IDAHO ROLLS PAST ALASKA
Wednesday’s win was a dominating effort by the Steelheads. In addition to Roy’s solid play in net, Idaho got contributions from both new and familiar faces.
David de Kastrozza opened the scoring with his 18th goal in the first period. Less than 2 minutes later, Wade MacLeod made it 2-0 with his team-leading 37th goal off a nice setup by Levi Nelson.
Rookie defenseman Zack Kamrass stole the show in the second period, netting his first two professional goals. The first was a wrister set up by Alex Belzile, who extended his point streak to 12 games. Kamrass struck again on the power play, blistering a slap shot into the top corner.
Steve Quailer capped the scoring with a nifty third-period backhander.
The victory moved Idaho one step closer to clinching the Pacific Division, which would give the Steelheads home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. Idaho needs one more win or one Ontario loss to clinch. Ontario was tied with Bakersfield at press time.
NOTE: Idaho forward Brett Robinson served as an alternate captain. The Steelheads haven’t named a captain this year, instead designating three alternates in Matt Case, Patrick Cullity and James Livingston. Case and Livingston sat out Wednesday, so Robinson wore the “A” on his sweater.