After enjoying the first round bye they earned by winning the WSHL Northwest Division regular season title again with a record of 44-7-1, the defending Thorne Cup champion Idaho Junior Steelheads will host the Whitefish Wolverines this weekend in McCall for the second round best two-of-three series.
Game times at Manchester Ice and Event Center are 7 PM Friday and Saturday nights, and 4PM on Sunday if a third game is necessary. All games can be viewed on www.fasthockey.com.
The winner of the series will advance to take on the winner of the Southern Oregon-Missoula semi-final series being played in Missoula this weekend.
Coach John Olver’s Junior Steelheads club will utilize its stifling, league-leading defense which accomplished a rare feat during the regular season, and which shut out the Wolverines for all but the first 19 minutes of the 360 minutes played in the six games between the two teams.
Over the course of the 52 game regular season, the Junior Steelheads allowed their opponents only 23 power play goals, fewest in the league, two fewer than the Valencia Flyers. This is nothing new. It marks the third year in a row, and fourth in the last five, in which the Idaho defense has allowed the fewest PPG of all teams.
The rare feat, however, was that the Idaho team scored 23 shorthanded goals themselves on their penalty kills. The 23 shorties are, by far, the most the Junior Steelheads have ever scored in a season, and the rarity is that a team’s shorthanded goal total is equal to or very close to its number of power play goals allowed.
Penalty killing percentage statistics are not provided by the league as in years past, but a review of Junior Steelheads scoresheets reveals that Idaho’s penalty killing unit was successful on 207 of 230 opponents’ power plays in 2015-2016, a percentage of exactly 90%.
The Junior Steelheads led the WSHL in penalty killing percentage in the previous (2014-2015) season with an efficiency of 91.75%.
Two seasons ago, the only year in which John Olver was not the coach, the Idaho penalty kill was second in the league at 89.31%, second to El Paso’s 90.55%.
In that 2013-2014 season, El Paso interrupted the Junior Steelheads string of league championships by beating Idaho for the Thorne Cup, and in that season, El Paso really upended the shorthanded goal-power play goal statistic.
The Rhinos notched an incredible 39 shorthanded goals that season and allowed only 31 power play goals.
The year before, the Rhinos had scored 38 shorties and allowed 39 power play goals.
The Whitefish team which comes to McCall this weekend finished fifth in the Northwest Division in the regular season with a record of 20-31-1 for 41 points, and upset the fourth place Vancouver Rangers, who had finished with 64 points, in two straight games last weekend by scores of 6-1 and then 6-5 in overtime.
Of the eight first round playoff series in the league, the Wolverines pulled the only upset of a higher seeded team.
When they take the ice against the Junior Steelheads, they will have not scored a goal against Idaho in the last 319 minutes and 13 seconds of play. The Junior Steelheads won in McCall 5-3 on October 16, shut out the Wolverines 7-0 and 13-0 over the rest of that weekend, then pitched three more shutouts in Whitefish on the December weekend before the league showcase.
In the last weekend of the regular season, Idaho swept the Butte Cobras in a three game series in Butte in similar fashion to the way they dominated Whitefish. Scores in Butte
were 6-0, 13-0, and 6-1.
The Junior Steelheads amassed 25 goals and 45 assists against the Cobras.
Co-captain Kyle Williams led the team scoring with seven points. Zach Walden and Nikita Zgirskis had six points each. Kyle TenEyck, Hunter Lester, and Oleg Losev notched five points apiece.
Goaltenders Austin Althaus and Sergei Pysarenko each had one of the shutouts.
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