Life on and off the waters of the Wood River Valley
Catching a Steelheads Game
Just like the rest of our sports-loving country, Idaho is full of hockey fans. That’s because hockey is just the type of sport us God fearing, beer worshipping Americans love. It’s fast paced, especially live and in person, and usually manages to mash in just enough violence to keep us enthralled.
We like to play hockey (participation in the sport has grown by 143% nationally in the last 20 years). We like to watch it (NHL games now draw more fans than NBA games) and that’s why Puckheads all across the Gem State rejoiced when Idaho’s very own professional team first took to the ice in Boise, back in 1997.
Aptly named the “Steelheads” in honor of the beloved fish that makes its way from the salty sea to the sweet fresh waters of Idaho, the “Steelies,” as they’re sometimes called, were an instant hit—although for a while there, it seemed like hitting was the only skill the team had.
During those early years, when they were still members of the lowly “wild” West Coast Hockey League, their games usually seemed more like tag team wrestling matches or roller derby contests than hockey games. Heck, the average Steelheads game had more fights than an episode of “Jersey Shore.”
Having attended several such games in these early years, it was common to hear someone say during a post game beer at Tablerock Brewery, the City of Trees’ original brewpub and hockey fan hangout just down the street from Centurylink Arena, “I went to see a fight and a hockey game broke out.”
The best part about going to Steelies games back when they were still young fry—besides the cheap beer—was that the games reminded many fans of the classic hockey flick, and arguably one of the greatest films ever made, “Slap Shot.”
Back then, no one who regularly attended a Steelheads game would have been surprised to hear the PA announcer introduce a player by saying something like this Slap Shot line: “Oh this young man has had a very trying rookie season, with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him—well, I guess that's more than most 21-year-olds can handle ... Ogie Ogilthorpe!”
Nor would anyone have been surprised if half the members of the team wore black framed eye glasses and could be seen “puttin’ on the foil” before games. But those days are long gone. The Steelies have moved up to the ECHL, they’re now a minor league affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars and they’ve even claimed a couple Kelly Cups as league champs.
So, much like the harrowing journey their namesakes take each year, the Steelheads have made the trek from brawlers to victors and can now hold their heads high without worrying (most of the time) about showing off black eyes or smiles that are few Chiclets short of a pack.
They’re also great games for families to attend now that they don’t usually resemble a scene from Braveheart. Last week, we took our two young sons to their first professional hockey game as the Steelheads hosted the Stockton Thunder. Despite the home team taking the loss, the boys and most of the couple of thousand folks attending the Tuesday night battle seemed to really enjoy it and we plan to make it to many more games over the years to come.
At a fraction of the cost and with more kid-focused entertainment (like letting all the little ones toss soft rubber pucks onto the ice between periods to help raise money for local youth hockey programs), a Steelheads game is actually a much more enjoyable experience than even seeing a big league hockey game.
And as an added bonus, being lucky enough to take my sons to their first professional hockey game also enlightened me about where the real idea for giving misbehaving children a “Time Out” came from.
As the French Canadian goalie from Slap Shot, Denis Lemieux, put it: “You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.”