Idaho Steelheads hockey practice EVERETT SHEEN

Idaho Steelheads coach Everett Sheen directs members of the team during practice on Wednesday at CenturyLink Arena.

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BOISE — Training camp is over, and the opening day roster is set.

Now the fun begins for the Idaho Steelheads and coach Everett Sheen.

The puck officially drops on the Sheen era tonight, as the Steelheads open the 2019-20 ECHL campaign on the road against the Utah Grizzlies. Sheen, who had spent the last three seasons as a Steelheads assistant under Neil Graham, was named the team’s eighth head coach in July after Graham left to take an assistant coach job with Idaho’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars.

“It will be exciting, it was a good test last weekend in the exhibition (games),” Sheen said about starting his first season as a head coach. “There were a few new things to handle, but I’m excited and confident heading into this weekend. All I can ask is our guys work their hardest, and we’ll see what happens.”

Sheen will look to continue the success that all of his predecessors have had. Since the team’s first season in 1997-98, the Steelheads have made the WCHL or ECHL playoffs in all 22 years of its existence.

It’s a fact that the team prides itself on and having a coach who is familiar with that culture was reassuring to the players, 14 of whom were skating with the Steelheads last season.

And the familiarity he has with the players make them all that more motivated to start the season off on the right foot.

“I think that speaks to Sheener’s character that all us players want to play well for him,” said forward Spencer Naas. “We want to put our best foot forward. I think Friday night, when we get going, that will be in the back of our mind, to get him his first win.”

Sheen got the opportunity to coach two exhibition games last weekend against the Grizzlies, a loss in Utah and a win at CenturyLink Arena. For Sheen, who said him and Graham worked as a two-man team on the bench, there wasn’t much difference for him in his first in-game situation as the head man.

“Sheener has his own little tic tac stuff that he has, Grahamer same thing, everybody’s got their own style,” said defenseman Jeff King. “But I think Everett took a lot of pointers from Grahamer, as he should have, because Grahamer was a pretty great coach as you can tell from getting the bump up to Texas. But it’s not too far off which is going to transition good into our game this year because we’ve got so many returners.”

Sheen, 32, is only few years removed from his own playing days. He played 319 games at the ECHL level from 2011-16, retiring from playing after spending the 2015-16 season with the Colorado Eagles.

The next season, he was on the Idaho Steelheads bench.

“He’s a younger guy and he’s not too far from playing hockey, himself,” King said. “So he knows how it is out there, he knows when to push us and he knows when to give us a break.”

Sheen’s first two games as a head coach will be an opponent the Steelheads know very well. Idaho has two games against the Grizzlies in West Valley City, Utah both tonight and Saturday.

Being the only two teams in the ECHL west of the Continental Divide has made the two teams into natural rivals. They played 15 times in the regular season last year before meeting again in the first round of the ECHL playoffs.

After Utah took Game 1 at CenturyLink Arena 7-1, Idaho won the next four games, all in overtime, to clinch the best-of-seven series. Idaho fell to the Tulsa Oilers in six games in the second round.

“It’s like a playoff atmosphere right away,” Sheen said about opening against the Grizzlies. “It is nice to have that rivalry just down the road and it will be a good test for us come Friday.”

John Wustrow is the assistant sports editor of the Idaho Press. He is a Michigan native and a graduate of Indiana University.

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