Updated: April 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm
Former Colorado College defenseman Arthur Bidwill remembers his first game against William Rapuzzi well.
"You're not used to playing against a guy in a game; practice is different," said Bidwill of the ECHL's Colorado Eagles. "But the first shift I had against him he blew me up. He just drove me into the boards. He plays hard every minute of every game."
Bidwill will have a couple of more chances to compete against Rapuzzi, the ECHL Rookie of the Year, when the Eagles host the Idaho Steelheads in Games 4 and 5 of the first-round playoff series at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland on Thursday and Friday. Games 6 and 7, if necessary, would be Monday and Tuesday in Boise.
The Anchorage, Alaska, native and former CC captain assisted both Idaho goals in a 2-1 victory in Game 1 and remains an offensive catalyst for the Steelheads, who trail the best-of-seven series 2-1 after a 4-1 loss Tuesday.
"With his work ethic and skill it's no surprise he has been successful at this level," said former Tigers defenseman Eamonn McDermott, who signed with Idaho in March. "He is the hardest-working player I have ever played with."
Rapuzzi's statistics (team-high 60 points, 44 assists, 63 games) are quite impressive when you consider he missed all of December with a knee injury that slowed him in January as well.
"I had to adjust my game," he said. "I use my speed to get out of trouble but I couldn't do that. Now, I'm feeling good."
The stats prove that. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound forward upped his game down the stretch, recording 33 points in February and March to lead Idaho to the No. 4 playoff seed in the Western Conference. He finished tied for second among rookies in six fewer games.
Rapuzzi never won the league's rookie of the month award, even during that hot streak. But his effort and all-around game makes him a star for the Steelheads, where past standouts include former Tigers Richard Bachman, Cody Lampl, Eric Rud and Matt Zaba.
"He showed right away that we could count on him for points at this level," Idaho coach Brad Ralph said. "He is a quiet leader and shows it best on the ice. He gets into all the dirty areas and works hard every shift."
Rapuzzi may move up to the American Hockey League's Texas Stars this offseason and one league below the NHL.
"They have definitely kept track of him," Ralph said. "He will have to play a different role there but he definitely could enjoy a successful professional career."
But for now, Rapuzzi is focused on the Steelheads' chances at the Kelly Cup, which goes to the ECHL playoff champions.
"We have a good mix of old guys and younger players that gives us a good chance of winning it," he said. "Now, we just need to play our game and advance."
CC TIGERS IN MINORS, OVERSEAS
Playoffs underway, stats through Wednesday morning
Central Hockey League
Brian McMillin, forward - Allen Americans; 31 points (18 assists) in 39 games
Arthur Bidwill, defenseman - Colorado Eagles; 17 points (14 assists) in 70 games
Joe Howe, goalie - Cincinnati Cyclones; 10-3-2-2 in 18 games (2.78 goals against, .907 saves percentage); started season with CHL Missouri (3-2-1, seven appearances, 2.52 goals, .915 saves)
Joe Marciano, defenseman - Bakersfield Condors; eight points (six assists) in 72 games
Eamonn McDermott, defenseman - Idaho Steelheads; two assists in eight games
Overseas (seasons complete)
Mike Boivin, defenseman - Salzburg (EBEL, Austria); 27 points (10 goals) in 66 games.
Andy Canzanello, defenseman - Straubing Tigers (Germany 1); seven points (six assists) in 34 games.
David Civitarese, center - Bolzano-Bozen (EBEL, two assists, 12 games); moved to
Kitzbuhel (Austria 3); 51 points (28 goals) in 24 games.
Joe Cullen, forward - Braeburn (Great Britain 1); 32 points (19 assists) in 30 games.
Mark Cullen, center - Salzburg (EBEL); 41 points (25 assists) in 66 games.
Nick Dineen, center - Lillehammer (Norway 1); 58 points (35 assists) in 50 games.
Calvin Elfring, defenseman - Belfast (Great Britain 1); 50 points (37 assists) in 50 games.
Trevor Frischmon, forward - Mora (Sweden 1); six points (four assists) in 22 games.
Gabe Guentzel, defenseman -- Ritten/Renon (Italy 1); 36 points (25 assists) in 46 games.
Tyler Johnson, wing - Vasteras (Sweden 1); 28 points (17 goals) in 33 games.
Jimmy Kilpatrick, forward - Numarkt/Egna (Austria 2); 48 points (22 goals) including nine goals in 13 playoff games.
Brian Salcido, defenseman - Amur Khabarovsk (Kontinental Hockey League, four points, three assists, 23 games); moved to JYP (Finland 1); 18 points (15 assists) in 31 games.
Stephen Schultz, wing - Kaufbeuren (Germany 1); 57 points (36 assists) in 55 games.
Peter Sejna, wing - Rapperswil-Jona (Switzerland 1); 28 points (13 goals) in 59 games.
Marty Sertich, center - Iserlohn (Germany 1); 41 points (34 assists) in 59 games.
Brett Sterling, forward -- Husqvarna V?terstad (Sweden 1); 20 points in 43 games before trade to Orebro (Sweden 1); four points (three assists) in 10 games.
Bill Sweatt, wing -- Bryn? (Sweden 1); 31 points (17 goals) in 60 games.
Mike Testwuide, forward - Anyang Halla (South Korea, Asia); 54 points (27 goals) in 42 games with a plus-55 rating.
Eric Walsky, right wing - Lugano (Switzerland 1); 13 points in 44 games; suffered season-ending upper-leg injury playing for Swiss national team.
Matt Zaba, goalie - Third-place Vienna Capitals (EBEL); 2.40 goals against; .917 saves percentage; no record available.