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Idaho Steelheads begin Kelly Cup hockey playoffs, need 16 wins

Neil Graham is the seventh head coach in Idaho Steelheads history, and all seven have led the team to the postseason in their first season.
Neil Graham is the seventh head coach in Idaho Steelheads history, and all seven have led the team to the postseason in their first season. doswald@idahostatesman.com

The ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs started this week, and for the 13th consecutive season, the Idaho Steelheads are part of the postseason party.

Boise’s minor-league hockey team begins its championship quest Thursday in the Western Conference quarterfinals, taking on the Allen Americans at 6:05 p.m. in Allen, Texas.

Three games at CenturyLink Arena are scheduled for next week, starting Wednesday.

Before the puck drops, here are 16 facts about the ECHL playoffs — one for each victory Idaho needs to win the Kelly Cup for the third time in franchise history.

1. GOING STREAKING

Idaho’s playoff streak actually goes back 19 seasons if you count the team’s days in the now-defunct West Coast Hockey League — an impressive run for any professional franchise. The Steelheads started in 1997-98 and have never missed the postseason

2. GRAHAM LEADS THE WAY

Idaho is led by first-year head coach Neil Graham, a former Steelheads player and assistant coach. Graham, 30, finished fifth in the ECHL’s Coach of the Year award voting this week. He is the seventh coach to lead the franchise to the playoffs.

3. MOSTLY HOT IN THE SECOND HALF

After a rocky start to the regular season, Idaho posted a 31-10-6 record over its final 47 games, though it did lose six of its last nine. The Steelheads tied Colorado atop the West Division, lost a tiebreaker and settled for the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference.

4. UNFAMILIAR FOE

Idaho and No. 4-seeded Allen have never met in the ECHL playoffs. The teams faced off four times during the regular season — their first-ever meetings — with Idaho going 2-1-1.

5. DEFENDING CHAMPS

Allen is the defending Kelly Cup champion. The Americans (formerly of the Central Hockey League) won the ECHL title during their first season in the league. Idaho won Kelly Cup championships in 2004 and 2007.

6. NOTHING FUNNY ABOUT THIS COSTELLO

Allen is led by high-scoring forward Chad Costello, who led the ECHL with 103 points in 72 games. It is the second consecutive league scoring crown for the Americans’ captain, who collected 28 points during Allen’s run to the Kelly Cup last spring. Slowing him down will be vital to the Steelheads’ chances.

7. STRENGTH ON STRENGTH

Idaho counters Allen’s high-octane offense with a defense that allowed the second-fewest goals in the Western Conference. The Steelheads’ blue line is anchored by Corbin Baldwin, who finished sixth in the ECHL with a plus-28 rating, as well as Shawn Boutin, Zack Kamrass, Tommy Fallen and Zach Yuen.

8. BALANCED ATTACK

The Steelheads don’t have a 100-point scorer, but eight Idaho players scored at least 10 goals. Jefferson Dahl and Emil Molin tied for the team lead with 22 tallies. Rob Linsmayer led Idaho with 57 points. Kyle Jean (42 points in 52 games) and Joe Basaraba (32 in 47) also were big contributors down the stretch.

9. THE NEED FOR SWEDE

Fans in Boise should be thrilled to see Molin on the playoff roster. The young Swede was dominant during his 54 games in an Idaho sweater, racking up 22 goals and 24 assists. He had several call-ups to the American Hockey League’s Texas Stars, but he’s back with the Steelheads for the playoff run. That’s a big boost for Graham’s squad, especially on the power play.

10. KILLER SPECIAL TEAMS

Idaho owns the ECHL’s second-ranked penalty kill unit at 86.5 percent, while Allen is third at 86.4 percent. The power play advantage goes to the Americans, who led the league at 21.1 percent. Idaho’s power play converted at 15.1 percent. Dahl ranked third in the league with 10 power-play goals.

11. NET GAINS

The Steelheads enter the playoffs with two capable goalies. Philippe Desrosiers played a team-high 31 games this season, going 15-7-6 with a .913 save percentage. Branden Komm went 10-6-1 with a .915 save percentage. Regular season stalwart Jack Campbell (14-5-1, .944) is not on the opening playoff roster — he’s up with the Texas Stars, who are in the AHL playoffs — but he (and four other players) are eligible to rejoin the Steelheads during the postseason as long as the roster move is made prior to the conference finals.

12. VETERAN POISE

Idaho is well-stocked with leadership. Captain Carson McMillan — who scored 19 goals and had a great second half of the season — has 29 games of professional playoff experience, while alternate captain Andrew Carroll leads the team with 24 playoff points and 45 games played.

13. HEALTH MATTERS

Injuries often go a long way toward determining who survives and advances in the playoffs. The Steelheads’ only big question mark is Dahl, who ended the season on injured reserve with an upper body injury. Dahl, an alternate captain and top goal scorer, would be a big loss if he’s unable to suit up.

14. ROAD WARRIORS

Idaho opens postseason play with road games Thursday and Saturday. If necessary, Games 6 and 7 of the series would be April 26 and 27, back in Texas. All road games begin at 6:05 p.m. and can be watched at the Sports Zone inside CenturyLink Arena or heard on KTIK radio (1350 AM).

15. HOME, SWEET HOME

The Steelheads return to CenturyLink Arena for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary) next Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Playoff tickets are available at the CenturyLink box office, by calling (208) 331-8497 or at idahosteelheads.com.

16. PLAYOFF BEARDS!

In a time-honored hockey tradition, players will stop shaving until the playoff run ends. Whoever claims the title will have a trophy and some serious scruff to show after grinding out 16 grueling victories.

Idaho Steelheads vs. Allen Americans

ECHL Western Conference quarterfinals

▪ Thursday: Idaho at Allen, 6:05 p.m.

▪ Saturday: Idaho at Allen, 6:05 p.m.

▪ Wednesday: Allen at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

▪ Friday, April 22: Allen at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

▪ x-Saturday, April 23: Allen at Idaho, 7:10 p.m.

▪ x-Tuesday, April 26: Idaho at Allen, 6:05 p.m.

▪ x-Wednesday, April 27: Idaho at Allen, 6:05 p.m.

x-if necessary

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