By Chris Langrill and Jordan Rodriguez
The Idaho Statesman
Idaho reloads in the offseason, adds depth, survives an up-and-down regular season, then catches fire
After the Steelheads blew a 3-1 series lead and lost to Las Vegas in the first round of the 2006 ECHL playoffs, it was clear the team needed more depth and skill.
Head coach Derek Laxdal addressed those problems in the offseason, bringing in a solid group of veterans and surrounding them with a deeper, more talented roster.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Laxdal said prior to the 2006-2007 regular season opener in October. “We want to get a little bit younger and more skilled. We have a lot more depth.”
Flichel and Burt returned from the 2005-2006 squad, while Galbraith and Hay came back from other teams to make a run at a second Kelly Cup with Idaho.
Galbraith has always been a fan favorite at Qwest Arena. “My heart was always here in Boise,” he said at the time.
Regular-Season Ups …
Celebrating its 10th anniversary season, Idaho got off to a hot start, winning eight of its first 10 games.
With goalie Steve Silverthorn anchoring the defense and Flichel and Galbraith leading the way on offense, the Steelheads posted an 11-3-2 record over the season’s first five weeks.
Idaho also hosted the ECHL All-Star Game on Jan. 17 at Qwest Arena. Hay was named captain of the National Conference All-Stars, while forwards Derek Nesbitt and Greg Rallo also played in the game. Nesbitt scored a goal and Rallo notched an assist, but the American Conference All-Stars won 6-3.
… AND Downs
While Idaho started the season hot, it dropped eight of 10 games between Nov. 29 and Dec. 23 to fall to 13-11-2.
Idaho’s woes continued into the new year, as injuries piled up and Silverthorn was called up to play for Iowa of the AHL.
Silverthorn’s call-up, combined with a brawl in Phoenix that left backup John Daigneau injured and unable to play, left the Steelheads scrambling to fill the void in net as they lost four of six January games in which Silverthorn did not play.
Daigneau was not the only player hit by the injury bug. Through the first 32 games, Hay was the only Steelhead to play in every game.
“(Injuries) go along with sports, but I’ve never seen it to this extreme,” Hay said in January.
… AND UPS
The Steelheads rebounded and finished the regular season on a strong note, winning seven of their last eight games to wrap up the fourth seed in the National Conference playoffs with a record of 42-24-6.
When the 2007 ECHL playoffs began in early April, the Steelheads were far from the favorites. Defending Kelly Cup champion Alaska steamrolled through the regular season to grab the No. 2 seed, and top-seeded Las Vegas entered the playoffs on a 13-game winning streak.
But Idaho was undaunted. Laxdal’s playoff roster was, in his opinion, the best he had all season and the coach was ready to put the regular season behind him.
“The regular season is a marathon, but now we’re in a sprint to the finish. The team that wins 16 games wins it all,” he said.
Laxdal’s players bought into a belief that was bolstered by a hard-fought, six-game victory over Stockton in the first round.
Beating the Thunder earned Idaho a date with heavily-favored Las Vegas in the National Conference semifinals. The Wranglers were coming off a sweep of Phoenix and riding an ECHL-record 17-game winning streak.
Las Vegas also had beaten Idaho in six of 10 regular-season games, not to mention the come-from-behind, seven-game playoff series victory in 2006.
But the Steelheads refused to let the Wranglers eliminate them again. After losing Game 1 at home, they rallied to win three consecutive games.
Las Vegas won Game 5 with a 4-0 shutout, but Greg Rallo‘s goal with 1:03 to play in Game 6 at Qwest Arena gave Idaho a 1-0 victory and a trip to the National Conference Finals.
Idaho carried its momentum into the National Conference Finals, shocking Alaska in five games.
The Steelheads stole the first two games on the road and finished off the Aces by winning two out of three at Qwest Arena.
Kelly Cup Finals
The Steelheads’ improbable wins over Las Vegas and Alaska earned them a spot in the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time since 2004, when Idaho won the cup in its first year in the ECHL.
Idaho’s opponent this time was Dayton, another surprise team anchored by ECHL Goalie of the Year Adam Berkhoel.
The Bombers took Game 1 at Qwest Arena, scoring late for a 2-1 victory.
But Idaho once again responded, this time riding Rallo’s hat trick to a 5-2 win in Game 2.
The Steelheads never looked back. As the series shifted to the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio, they seized control with a 4-2 victory in Game 3.
The Steelheads broke Dayton’s spirits with a 2-1, double overtime win in Game 4 and finished off the Bombers with a 4-1 win in Game 5 to win the Kelly Cup.