The Idaho Statesman
ANCHORAGE – Advantage Steelheads.
The Idaho Steelheads defeated the defending Kelly Cup champion Alaska Aces 1-0 in the first game of the ECHL National Conference finals on Monday night at Anchorage’s Sullivan Arena.
It was a big win on Alaska’s home ice, but Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal stopped short of saying that Idaho had all the momentum in the series now.
“No, it’s just the first win,” Laxdal said. “It was a hard-fought win, but it’s only the first one. Now we see if we can get another (Tuesday).”
Alaska, seeded No. 2 in the conference, finished the regular season with the second-best record in the ECHL. Only Las Vegas had a better record, and the No. 4-seeded Steelheads knocked off the Wranglers in their previous playoff series.
The teams return to action again on Tuesday for Game 2 from Sullivan Arena. The series then shifts to Idaho for Game 3, which will be played at 7:10 p.m. Friday at Qwest Arena.
Idaho failed to score on its first three power-play opportunities, meaning that dating back to the Las Vegas series Idaho was 0-for-23 on the power play.
But Idaho would score the next time it had the man advantage. That came with about 5 minutes remaining in the second period, when Aces forward Ryan MacMurchy was charged with a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding. Steelheads captain Marty Flichel was the recipient of the penalty and left the ice bleeding above his left eye. Laxdal said Flichel received about 10 stitches.
Idaho then broke through for the first goal of the series. Idaho defenseman Lars Helminen took a long shot that Crombeen tipped in 16:05 into the second period.
“We came in here and stuck with our game plan,” Laxdal said. “The 5-minute major was the difference.”
The Aces were on the offensive for most of the third period, but they were unable to break through against Silverthorn, who turned away the 15 shots he faced as the Steelheads’ defense kept the shots on goal to a minimum.
“It was a great defensive effort,” Laxdal said. “Our guys took away the middle of the ice.”
Idaho improved to 6-0 in this postseason after scoring the first goal.