By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
Hockey is a team sport, no doubt about that.
But if there is one individual who the Idaho Steelheads will pin their hopes on in the ECHL National Conference finals against the Alaska Aces, it might be goalie Steve Silverthorn.
Idaho, the No. 4 seed in the conference, begins its best-of-seven series against the No. 2-seeded Alaska Aces on Monday at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
Steelheads fans can expect Silverthorn to start every game of the series against Alaska, just as he did in Idaho’s first two playoff series. And it might not be a stretch to say that as Silverthorn goes, so go the Steelheads.
His coach, Derek Laxdal, is OK with that.
“He wins hockey games,” Laxdal said “You ask about any successful athlete, you ask about quarterbacks, you ask about goaltenders, you ask about pitchers — what they do is win games. And he wins games.”
The numbers back him up. Silverthorn had more wins (36) than any other goalie in the ECHL in the regular season. His eight wins in the playoffs are matched only by Alaska goalie Derek Gustafson.
Silverthorn has also been an ironman in the net for Idaho, playing in 59 games and logging the third-most minutes in the league in the regular season. In the playoffs, he has played two more games than any other goalie and has spent 146 more minutes in the net than anyone else.
So, it’s safe to assume that Silverthorn enjoyed the week off the Steelheads had before resuming play today.
“It was nice to get a couple days to relax,” Silverthorn said. “So when you get back into it, you’re pretty much fresh again. This time of season, you can’t get tired anyway.”
And Idaho fans shouldn’t get tired of watching him. After all, it’s not a stretch to say that these remaining playoff games could be his last in a Steelheads uniform.
“I kind of hope so,” Silverthorn said. “You obviously want to move up. I love it here, personally, but I just want to move up to the next level.”
And Laxdal said there’s no reason he shouldn’t get his chance. After all, Silverthorn proved he could play at the next level when he notched back-to-back shutouts in early January when he was called up to play with the Iowa Stars, the Steelheads’ AHL affiliate.
“He’s proven to Iowa that he can play in the American Hockey League,” Laxdal said. “So I think his future is pretty great in the Iowa organization. And that’s great. We’d love nothing more than to see him move on and prove himself at the next level.”
But before Silverthorn moves on, there’s the little matter of a high-stakes series against the Aces, with the winner advancing to the Kelly Cup finals. Idaho went 3-3 against Alaska in their six regular-season games.
“Alaska’s a great rival,” Laxdal said. “They won the championship last year … and you enjoy playing them because they’re a great team. They play hard and it’s a hostile environment up there.”
A hostile environment to say the least, according to veteran Scott Burt.
“Well, I tell you what, they don’t like us too much,” Burt said. “We’ve had a beer bottle thrown at us. We’ve had keys thrown at us.”
Neither player donned a Steelheads uniform again after that incident and Laxdal was very terse when asked about it.
“Done with,” he said. “Whole new season.”
Still, there will obviously be no love lost between the two teams in this series.
“It’s a pretty good rivalry,” Burt said. “Obviously, what happened with the suspensions and all that stuff this year is behind us now. But there’s still a rivalry there and both teams want to win.”