By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Steelheads have started three playoff series at home in the 2007 postseason and have lost all three openers.
But there’s good news for Idaho fans: The Steelheads went on to win the first two series.
Now it’s just a matter of finding out if they can come back and win the biggest ECHL series of them all.
The Dayton Bombers defeated the Steelheads 2-1 in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals on Wednesday night at Qwest Arena. Idaho hosts Game 2 Friday night. The series shifts to Dayton, Ohio, for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary).
“We have to respond on Friday night,” Steelheads coach Derek Laxdal said. “They’ve done what they wanted to do. They’re assured of a split (in the first two games). Now their goal is to get two and we have to respond to that.”
Idaho has proven it’s pretty good at responding. The Steelheads haven’t suffered back-to-back losses in the postseason, and the last time they lost two in a row in the regular season was March 18-21.
Dayton co-owner and co-head coach Don MacAdam said his team would do its part to try to put Idaho in an 0-2 hole.
“Anybody will tell you that we came here to get a split,” MacAdam said. “… But once you get it, you get greedy and you want two.”
This series marks the second time each team has been to the Kelly Cup Finals. Idaho won the ECHL league championship in 2004, while Dayton was swept by Greenville in 2002.
Dayton came into the finals billed as a team that likes to play a structured, defensive style. It dictated the pace of the first period with just that brand of hockey.
The game was scoreless through most of the first period, but the Bombers broke through for the first score with 1 minute, 36 seconds remaining in the opening frame. That’s when Dayton’s Philippe Dupuis and Yannick Tifu found themselves on a 2-on-1 breakaway. Dupuis fed Tifu, and the third-leading point-scorer in the ECHL’s regular season beat Steelheads goalie Steve Silverthorn to make it 1-0.
The shots on goal were limited, which played right into the Bombers’ hands. Dayton took seven shots, while Idaho had just six through the first period.
“We know we don’t have the skill of a lot of teams, so we have to be really solid defensively,” MacAdam said.
The shots increased for both teams in the second period (Dayton had 14, Idaho had 13), but neither team was able to break through for a goal. Dayton goalie Adam Berkhoel was pressured a few times, but the ECHL goaltender of the year continued to stand tall.
Idaho really picked up the pace in the third period, and the crowd urged on Idaho. The 3,817 fans’ efforts were finally rewarded with a goal 13:55 into the final period. Steelheads defenseman Colin Peters sent a long shot through traffic that Francis Wathier redirected past Berkhoel. That made it 1-1, and the crowd was hoping for one more goal or at least overtime.
“Idaho controlled the second period and then really turned it on in the third,” MacAdam said.
But Idaho couldn’t capitalize.
And Dayton did.
Bombers forward Peter Pohl got the puck to rookie Trevor Frischmon, who scored the winning goal with 2:36 remaining as he was sliding on the ice by the net.
The statistic of the game might be that Idaho only had one power-play opportunity (Dayton had four).
Laxdal has preached discipline throughout the playoffs, but that might be especially important in this series.
“We took some bad penalties when we had a chance to have a power play,” he said. “You can’t do that. That’s not good hockey.”
And it’s going to take some good hockey from Idaho to even this series.
“You know what? We’ve battled all year,” Steelheads veteran Scott Burt said. “We’ll continue to battle and we’ll be prepared for Friday.”