By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho – The Idaho Steelheads hope to please all the fans who attend their games at Qwest Arena, but there was one person in the arena last week whom the players especially wanted to impress.
That would be Scott White, the director of hockey operations for the Iowa Stars, the Steelheads’ affiliate in the American Hockey League.
White, who was head coach of the Columbia Inferno from 2001-05 and an assistant coach with Greensboro from 1999-2001, plays a major role in deciding which Steelheads get a chance at the next level, the goal of almost every player on Idaho’s ECHL team. The ECHL is considered the AA level in pro hockey in the United States, while the AHL is AAA, one phone call away from the NHL.
White, who helped Greensboro win the ECHL championship in 1990, regularly comes to Idaho to scout young talent in the Dallas Stars organization. Dallas is the NHL parent club of Idaho and Iowa. He was in Boise last week to scout left wing Richard Clune, 20, and center Aaron Gagnon, 21.
“Those two guys are younger guys who are just getting their feet wet in the pro ranks,” said White, who was ECHL Defenseman of the Year and First-Team All-ECHL in 1991-92.
“(They) are young, and they’re NHL prospects. They’re not top-echelon prospects, but they’re prospects, so I have to see for Dallas’ sake how they’re coming along.”
The answer, especially in Gagnon’s case, would be not too shabby. Nine games into the season, he has already notched a four-game goal-scoring streak, and is second on the team in goals scored. Clune has two assists in seven games, but his role isn’t necessarily about scoring.
“Rich is an energy guy who can score, but if he’s going to make it in the NHL, it’s going to be in the bottom six of their 12 forwards,” White said. “Here, he’s on the third line, and that’s where he’s going to play. He has to be an agitating presence and be physical.”
Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal agreed.
“He’s got to be a penalty killer, he’s got to be a role player, he’s got to be a physical guy,” he said. “He needs to be almost a Claude Lemieux clone, where he’s in people’s faces all the time.”
White met with Gagnon and Clune after the game and told the players to keep working hard and earn their ice time.
“He said to get a lot of ice time down here so when we go up we’re ready to go and ready to contribute,” Clune said.
That valuable game experience is exactly why the two rookies are beginning their pro careers in Idaho.
“If Aaron and Rich were in Iowa right now, they might be in the lineup, they might not,” White said. “When they got in, they would probably play five to 10 minutes, if that. And I think it’s better for them to play. I trust (Laxdal), and he’s going to get them some time.”
White said he will be patient with the two players’ call-ups, because once that decision is made he wants it to stick.
“My goal with those two is that when they make the transition to Iowa, it’s not back and forth, it’s Iowa and on,” he said.
Gagnon said he takes some ribbing from teammates because he is being groomed to play at a higher level.
“Guys kind of joke with me about just being here to get up there and not worrying about the team,” he said. “But no matter where you play you want to play on a winning team.”
Laxdal said he likes what he sees in Gagnon.
“He’s deceivingly fast and has a great set of hands,” he said. “He’s going to end up in Iowa, but while he’s here fans should enjoy him.”