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Pro hockey's other team on the quest for an all-time record
The Idaho Steelheads have a better points percentage than he Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins are on a historic pace.
You know that, everyone knows that.
But the Bruins aren’t the only team in North American pro hockey on pace for a historic season.
In the ECHL, the Idaho Steelheads have a 45-9-3 record through 57 games. Idaho’s .816 point percentage is on pace to top the 2001-02 Louisiana Ice Gators league record .806 points percentage from the 2001-02 season and the Idaho is also chasing the league-record for total points, also set by the Ice Gators with 116 that season.
“We knew we were probably gonna have a pretty good team,” Steelheads coach Everett Sheen said. “Like we should make the playoffs and challenging for the division, but to be this good? No. I definitely thought we’d be one of the top teams in the league, hopefully challenging for the No. 1 spot, but no one can expect this pace.”
Historically the Steelheads have always been one of the gold standards in the ECHL, it why the Dallas Stars have been so adamant about holding onto that affiliation, but it’s been awhile since Idaho witnessed playoff hockey.
The Kelly Cup wasn’t awarded during the 2019-20 season because of COVID-19, Idaho for franchise viability, didn’t play during he 2020-21 season, and last season Idaho missed the playoffs in a season it actually played for the first time in franchise history.
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ECHL contracts are all one-year deals, there is constant roster turnover, so Idaho has always focused on trying to carry a core over from one year to the next. At least seven or eight players that are at least in their second season in Idaho.
“Last year we didn’t have a core because we didn’t play the year before, so it was tough,” Sheen said. “So this year was the first year (since COVID) I came in with a stable core of guys who knew how to play together, so I knew last year was gonna be tough, but we still expected to make the playoffs. It was tough, but we still took that core forward and it really built this team for this season.”
That core has already clinched the Mountain Division, and, in fact, have more than double the amount of points of the last-place team in division.
From an individual perspective, the Steelheads don’t have a player in the top-15 in league scoring. Ryan Dmowski leads the team with 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) and ranks 18th overall in the league.
Matt Register is third amongst ECHL defenseman scoring with 46 points (6 goals, 40 assists), but also had a ridiculous plus-52, best in the league by a wide margin.
Looking at the Steelheads overall, it’s an exercise in efficiency across the lineup.
“That’s kind of who you have to be, I think, to have consistent success in the league,” Sheen said. “You have to be able to have that group of pieces that come together, it’s not really a league where you get one guy to drive everything by himself, because if you rely on that, when you need them most, they’ll likely be called up to Texas (and the AHL).”
From a skater perspective, the Steelheads have only had two players this season with NHL contracts, Dawson Barteaux and Antonio Stranges, but have enjoyed elite ECHL goaltending from Dallas prospects Remi Poirer and Adam Scheel.
(Jake Kupsky started the season in Idaho before signing an AHL deal with the Abbotsford Canucks, but has since been injured.)
“Both Scheel and Poirer have been phenomenal,” Sheen said. “I think we do a good job of making their job easier, and limiting huge chances against, but they’ve made a lot of big saves, they’ve been a huge backbone for our success this season.”
Poirer is currently in the AHL with the Texas Stars, the trickle down impact of an injury to Scott Wedgewood in the NHL, giving Scheel the ECHL starts. Sheen said it’s been a rotation most of the season when both are in the ECHL, while he’s open to one goalie running with the starting job if they took it outright.
For Idaho, like the Bruins in the NHL, the goal this season is to win a championship, not necessarily set a regular season record — although that would be nice.
In the Western Conference, Idaho will be a heavy favorite to come out of the Mountain Division playoff before potentially meeting in an ECHL heavyweight clash with the Toledo Walleye out of the Central Division.
While Idaho has a shot at the ECHL overall points record, Toledo has won 16 games in a row and could, in theory, catch the 23-game win streak the South Carolina Stingrays set as the ECHL record in 2015.