The Idaho Junior Steelheads clinched their sixth consecutive regular season division title in the WSHL Saturday night with a 4-2 victory over the Rangers in Vancouver, Washington. The victory was part of a three game weekend sweep. The Junior Steelheads had beaten Vancouver 5-2 on Friday night, and won by the same 5-2 score again on Sunday afternoon.
The homestanding Rangers did not make it particularly easy for Idaho, and the Rangers played the entire series without six players who had scored almost 40% of their goals and over 43% of their points on the season. The six Rangers players were unavailable due to suspensions and injuries.
The Junior Steelheads have won 41 games and taken seven regulation and one overtime loss to take 83 points into the final weekend of the regular season. The Missoula Maulers have claimed second place in the Northwest Division, with 74 points to date. Both teams will get first round division playoff byes.
The Junior Steelheads peppered Rangers goaltenders with an average of 53 shots per game over this last weekend, but fewer than 9% of their shots went in the goal. Aaron Daniello and Jamie Nanchen kept Vancouver in the games, combining for 146 saves.
The three games followed a similar pattern. Idaho scored first in each game. The Rangers came back to tie or at least cut the lead. The Junior Steelheads scored again. The Rangers scored again, then Idaho got another goal or two to ice the victory.
Vancouver never had a lead during the series, and averaged only 23 shots per game on the Idaho goaltending tandem of Austin Althaus and Sergei Pysarenko, but they challenged the Junior Steelheads to keep up the pressure.
Althaus won Friday night’s contest, Pysarenko took Saturday’s, and Althaus got the Sunday victory in relief after Pysarenko sustained an injury 11 minutes into the game.
For the series, three Idaho players notched four points apiece. Oleg Losev had a goal and three assists. Colton Fletcher had assists in all three games, totaling four. Kyle TenEyck had four assists in the Sunday contest.
Macky Power and Tyler Berndt also had fine Sundays, Power with two goals and an assist, Berndt the reverse.
Pontus Blom contributed two goals and an assist to the weekend.
Co-captain Kyle Williams got his goal and two assists on Friday night, and the other co-captain, Dimitris Jones, spread his goal and two assists over the series.
Nikita Zgirskis had two goals. Cory McClintick and Alex Knutsson each garnered a goal and assist.
Zack Biebuyck and Axel Meurling had single goals.
Zach Walden, Hunter Lester, and Connor Hoerlein each had single assists.
Under Head Coach John Olver, the Junior Steelheads won the regular season Western Division in 2010-2011, their second season in the league, en route to their first Thorne Cup, defeating El Paso for the championship.
In 2011-2012, the Steelies switched to the Mountain Division, took first place, and went on to beat the Dallas Ice Jets 6-5 in the famous Stephan Brucato Overtime Game for their second Thorne Cup. Brucato scored all six of Idaho’s goals, including the championship-producing goal in overtime.
In 2012-2013, the Northwest Division was formed, Idaho took the title, then hosted the league final series in McCall, beating the Bay Area Seals for their third straight Thorne and then again for the first-ever UHU National Championship.
With Olver having left the team before the 2013-2014 season, Idaho won the regular season Northwest title but fell short by just a few goals in each of the Northwest Division playoff, Thorne Cup, and UHU National final games.
Olver returned in 2014-2015 to lead another Northwest Division champion and Thorne Cup-winning team.
Next weekend, the Junior Steelheads conclude the regular season with another three road games against a Butte Cobras team that is fighting for the sixth and final playoff spot when the Northwest Division playoffs begin the weekend after that.
Butte has a game in hand on Seattle but trails the Totems by four points. Seattle has a home-and-home two-game series with Vancouver, who will be fighting to regain third place from the Southern Oregon Spartans by the end of the weekend. The Spartans will host Missoula for their final three regular season games.
The Junior Steelheads will host a second round playoff series in McCall on March 18-19-20.
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