Joe Basaraba’s hockey season can be summarized in three words:
Shock, injury, success.
If he can continue his recent success, Basaraba will be one of the Steelheads’ most valuable players as the team begins to focus on the postseason.
Idaho enters Friday’s home game against Colorado in first place in the ECHL’s West Division with 78 points. Second-place Utah is four points back and Colorado is eight points back. The Steelheads have five home games remaining in the regular season and eight overall.
The Steelheads, who have won eight of their past 12 games, are one of the league’s hottest teams. Basaraba, 23, has played a big role with eight goals and 18 points in those 12 games.
“It’s nice that he’s found that groove,” coach Neil Graham said.
It didn’t come easily.
The Florida Panthers’ third-round pick of the 2010 NHL Draft entered camp last fall with the Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL). Graham wrangled a deal in October that sent defenseman Mark Louis to Orlando in exchange for Basaraba.
“I didn’t see it coming, and it’s obviously one extreme to the other, coming from Orlando to all the way up here,” Basaraba said. “I wouldn’t say I was disappointed, just shocked.”
The Steelheads struggled out of the gates, losing 10 of their first 14 games. Meanwhile, Basaraba couldn’t find his footing, either. He failed to notch a goal in his first 15 games, though he did have seven assists.
“I don’t think I was in the right mindset for those first 15 games or so,” the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder said. “It was a tough adjustment.”
Looking back, Graham doesn’t blame him.
“He wasn’t expecting a trade. It happens, and you’re a professional about it, but at the same time it’s your life,” Graham said. “So he came to a new team and then we as a team didn’t have the start we wanted. So he’s trying to find his niche, and then he got that injury.”
The injury, which Graham describes as a “significant upper body injury,” happened Nov. 20 at Colorado. It forced Basaraba to miss the next two months.
“I think that time allowed me to look back and reflect,” Basaraba said. “I just tried to take a few steps back and find my game again.”
Meanwhile, Graham watched Basaraba put in the work required to get back on the ice.
“We found our stride, and he was around us every day and he was a part of that,” Graham said. “He was in the room and working out, even though he wasn’t on the ice.”
Basaraba returned Jan. 23 in Alaska. He notched his first goal with the Steelheads one night later.
“When I came back I was able to hit the ice running,” Basaraba said. “I was able to (score) in Alaska, and that kind of helped get the ball rolling.”
Since his return, he has notched 10 goals and 14 assists in 24 games, averaging a point per game.
“Sometimes, it’s funny,” Graham said. “You never want an injury. You never want something bad to happen to one of your players. But with Joe it was almost like it gave him a reset button.”
He now teams with captain Carson McMillan and Andre Bouvet-Morrissette to form a line that has earned at least a point in each of the past 12 games.
“Since he’s been back he’s been … one of our best players,” McMillan said. “He came back hungry. That happens. Players will have to sit there for months, and they want to get back in the lineup. Since his first game back, he’s been chipping in.”
That has come as no surprise to Graham.
“He’s won an NCAA championship (at Minnesota-Duluth in 2011). He was a senior-year captain, a third-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers,” Graham said. “The pedigree is there.”
And, after a significant injury, so is Basaraba’s appreciation of the game.
“I’m just happy to be a part of this team right now and be a part of the run that we’re having,” Basaraba said. “Obviously, I’m very happy with where I’m at right now.”
Steelheads’ regular season winding down
▪ Who: vs. Colorado Eagles
▪ When: 7:10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
▪ Where: CenturyLink Arena
▪ Radio/TV: 1350 AM/Cable One channel 72
▪ Tickets: CenturyLink Arena box office or idahosteelheads.com
▪ Up next: Idaho hosts Utah on Wednesday before hitting the road for its final three away games. Idaho’s final regular-season homestand is April 8 and April 9 against Missouri.