The Chippewa Steel are back to business.
The Chippewa Falls-based North American Hockey League club is getting busy again in preparation for the 2021-22 season, which begins in September. The Steel and the rest of the league completed the NAHL Entry Draft on Wednesday, and those players and others will be in town next week for the team’s main camp as the Steel look to trim the roster to find out who will come to training camp next month.
Forward Evan Pahos of Castle Pines, Colo. was chosen by Chippewa with its top pick in the draft at eighth overall. Latvian forward Patriks Marcinkevics was selected with the team’s other first-round selection, as coach Mike Janda said the team focused on adding scoring punch.
“The focus for us outside of the first pick was forwards. We really like our D coming back,” Janda said. “We tendered a few strong defensemen who might start the year in the USHL (or) might start the year with us, we don’t know. But we needed to get some depth up front. We lost a lot of scoring, so we were trying to address that early.”
One of the team’s forward draftees is a familiar face for Chippewa Valley hockey fans, as Eau Claire Memorial forward Joe Kelly was selected with the 124th overall pick in the fifth round. Kelly scored 16 goals and assisted on 24 others in 18 games this past season for the Old Abes and had 55 goals and 63 assists in 62 career games across three seasons for the Big Rivers Conference squad.
“Our scouts and director of player personnel Mike Fazio seen him play a bunch,” Janda said. “They liked his speed, they liked his ability to create plays and make things happen.”
Chippewa also selected Ashwaubenon native defenseman Parker Dorn with the 269th overall pick in the 10th round, and Janda said the team is making a larger effort to find local talent for the roster.
Janda took over the team as head coach and general manager in mid-April but had been keeping a close eye on this year’s draft class as he was discussing possible coaching opportunities around the league prior to being hired to lead in Chippewa. Prior to Wednesday’s draft, the Steel had held pre-draft camps around the country; four players from those camps were ultimately drafted.
The next step for the Steel comes next week, when those drafted players join with returners from last season, recently tendered players and other free agent signees at next week’s main camp at Chippewa Area Ice Arena. There, the players will compete against each other throughout the week. The top players from the week will play in two all-star games, which will be open to the fans on Saturday night and Sunday morning with concessions being served.
“It’s important for us to see our draft picks and if they can play. The draft isn’t a guarantee, it’s a carrot to say we’re interested and now you’ve got to come to Chippewa and you’ve got to show that you belong here,” Janda said.
Janda said his team is focused on finding players that can make plays, control and pass the puck and play with their heads up. Next week’s main camp will be the final main activity for the team until training camp begins next month. Chippewa opens the regular season on Sept. 10 by hosting the Kenai River Brown Bears. Overall, the Steel play seven games in a row at home to start the season as a part of the Midwest Division with the Janesville Jets, Minnesota Magicians, Minnesota Wilderness, Springfield Jr. Blues, Fairbanks Ice Dogs, Brown Bears and Anchorage Wolverines.
The Steel finished 14-29-2-3 in a 48-game regular season last season, good for fifth place in the division.
“I expect the game to be fast next week,” Janda said of the main camp. “We tried to do a good job recruiting enough free agents to camp that can play. We’re expecting a high compete environment.”