It is an unwritten rule of hockey that every player must have an abbreviated nickname not to exceed two syllables.
In that regard, Steelheads rookies Jake Fallon and Tommy Fallen have presented a big challenge for coach Neil Graham and the rest of the locker room. Their surnames share an identical pronunciation, which has led to more than a few funny moments of confusion.
“It’s just chaos every time,” Fallen said. “When we hear ‘Fallon’ or ‘Falsy,’ we both perk up and look around to see which one of us they want.”
As the Steelheads prepare for the approaching ECHL playoffs, both players are getting used to having their names called. Fallen has become one of the team’s most reliable defensemen, while Fallon’s speed and versatility as a forward have earned him a regular spot in the lineup after missing the first half of the season with an injury.
“Tommy and Jake have been huge for us,” Graham said. “Both of those guys bring a lot of energy and life to our team.”
Fallon, 24, took the long route to starting his professional career. Graham wanted to bring him in for training camp, but an offseason surgery kept Fallon out of action for the first two months of the season.
Once he was medically cleared, Fallon wasted little time reconnecting with the Steelheads.
“As soon I was ready to suit up, we locked down the details and I got a flight out here,” Fallon said. “I’m happy to be here, and happy for the opportunity to play pro hockey. I love Boise, and I love the fans.”
After a couple of weeks, Fallon found his rhythm and became an invaluable cog in the Idaho lineup. He’s scored 13 points in 31 games, he can play all three forward positions and he is one of the team’s best penalty killers.
“Jake has been very consistent for us,” Graham said. “He plays with a ton of speed — you can see him out there pulling away from defenders.”
Meanwhile, Fallen has settled in as one of the team’s steadiest blue-liners since joining the Steelheads via an early-season trade with Toledo. The 24-year-old rookie is one of the team’s smallest players, but he more than compensates with his speed, positioning and hockey IQ.
“It’s been really fun to watch Tommy grow as a pro,” Graham said. “We knew he was smart and we knew he was mobile, but he’s really been great in the locker room, too. He leads every day.”
Leadership and smart, winning hockey are nothing new to Fallen, who won a national championship as a college sophomore at Yale and went on to serve as the Bulldogs’ captain as a senior. With Idaho, he has contributed 17 points through 58 games — all while managing to avoid too much ribbing for his Ivy League pedigree.
“I try to keep quiet about that, so it hasn’t been too bad,” Fallen said. “But Yale was the best four years of my life. I’ll always have a special bond with my college teammates from winning (the national title), and it’s a similar camaraderie with the guys here. We’re looking to make a deep playoff push.”
With only six regular-season games remaining, Fallon, Fallen and the Steelheads are already in playoff mode as they jostle with Utah and Colorado for the West Division title. And if the Steelheads do make a run at the franchise’s third Kelly Cup, chances are both “Falsys” will be right in the thick of things.
“We’re actually roommates, too, so it’s a pretty funny setup,” Fallen said. “I’ve been waiting for some packages at home. Jake’s probably been stealing them.”
Fallon & Fallen fun fact
Jake Fallon and Tommy Fallen have stayed away from the penalty box this season. The Steelheads teammates have combined for 14 penalty minutes, by far the smallest totals for any lineup regulars. Forward Emil Molin is the next least-penalized player with 14 penalty minutes.
First-place showdown Wednesday
▪ Who: Idaho Steelheads vs. Utah Grizzlies
▪ When: 7:10 p.m.
▪ Where: CenturyLink Arena
▪ Radio/TV: 1350 AM/Cable One channel 72
▪ Tickets: CenturyLink Arena box office or idahosteelheads.com
▪ Notable: Wednesday’s game features the top two teams in the ECHL West Division. Idaho owns a one-point lead over Utah. The Steelheads have dominated the head-to-head matchup this season, going 9-2-1 versus the Grizzlies. Idaho has six games remaining, while Utah has five. This is the final regular-season meeting between the teams.