Chippewa Falls is home to long winters, cold temps and multiple high school hockey teams. But now a North American Hockey League (NAHL) team also calls Chippewa Falls home.
The newly established Tier II junior hockey league team, the Chippewa Steel, hit the ice for the first time Friday night at Chippewa Area Ice Arena in their inaugural faceoff against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Married father of two John Stearns said it is exciting to have new, young talent playing hockey in the area.
“We love coming out to local games,” Stearns said. “So, to have a new team filled with really talented kids come to Chippewa is exciting. I’m looking forward to seeing if this community rallies around them and hopefully they stick around for quite a while.”
The Chippewa Steel relocated to Chippewa Falls this year and were formerly known as The Coulee Region Chill, which played out of La Crosse. After landing veteran coach Al Rooney earlier this year, and after a month of practicing, the Steel seem poised to be successful in the NAHL opening night, attendee Jessica Lawrence said.
“It seems like the team has gotten a lot of attention recently in the news,” Lawrence said. “Usually I just hear about the high school or college teams in the community, but this is the first time a team outside of that has come to this community and fans are gravitating towards them. It’s cool to see.”
The 25-plus Steel roster also boasts nine players from Wisconsin — Huston Collins (Eau Claire), Jacob Peterson (Oak Creek), Austin Mikesch (Green Bay), Connor Zilisch (Appleton), Jacob Dirks (Mindoro), Sam Dabrowski (Onalaska), Michael Gobhardt (Mequon), Grant Reichenbacher (Madison), and new addition to the team Chase Davidson (Menomonie).
Over the 44-year history of the NAHL, an attractive quality of the league for young players is the league’s ability to help foster future success. According to nahl.com, during the 2017-18 season, the NAHL set a record with 331 National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) commitments, with over 79 percent of those being at the Division I level. In addition, in the 2018 National Hockey League (NHL) Draft, nine players with NAHL experience were picked.
Local hockey fan, Eric Reinhardt, said he will come to as many Steel games as possible.
“I love hockey and this is a great arena for it,” Reinhardt said. “I’m looking forward to where the Steel go this season, and I’ll keep coming out as much as I can. If we want teams like this to stay here for more than a few years we need to come out and support them while we can.”
For more information, the team’s schedule or to get tickets, you can visit nahl.com or Chippewa Steel Hockey on Facebook.