The margin between wins and losses has been razor thin more often than not thus far this season for the Chippewa Steel.
After an 0-4 road trip to Alaska with two games decided by one goal and another that was a one-goal contest entering the third period, Steel coach Al Rooney spent the early part of the week pouring over film with his team and showing them how close they are to turning those tight losses into victories.
Chippewa carries a seven-game losing streak into this week’s North American Hockey League action. The Steel (3-8-1) play at the Minnesota Magicians in Richfield, Minnesota on Thursday before returning to Chippewa Area Ice Arena for games against the Aberdeen Wings on Friday and Saturday evening.
“We’re not far off,” Rooney said. “I don’t want to make excuses but the bottom line is we’re sitting 3-8-1 and we’re not getting it done. Having said that the more I watch our games, our young players are making the young mistakes we expected them to make. Some of our veterans are not producing for us. They were expected to carry the load early and we have some veterans that are underperforming, under producing right now. That’s holding us back a little bit.”
Chippewa lost 4-0 and 3-2 to the Midwest Division leading Kenai River Brown Bears on Oct. 5 and 6 to start the trip before setbacks of 5-2 and 4-3 in overtime to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
While the team has been inconsistent, especially on special teams, Rooney said he’s been pleased with the effort shown. That includes killing seven minutes worth of a penalty kill early in the third period of the overtime defeat to the Ice Dogs.
“I really love to see that seven minutes of penalty kill to fight, to keep it a one-goal game and then we tied it,” Rooney said. “We did everything but score a game winner in the final 10 minutes and the first few minutes of OT. The bottom line is a bad line change gave them the one opportunity they had in OT and they buried it. Kudos to our opponents, when they get the chances they are burying them but we at least saw some fight, we saw the team pull it together and not pack it in. So I’m hoping to carry that into this weekend’s game, first and foremost with the (Minnesota) Magicians.”
The Magicians (7-3) currently sit in a tie with Janesville Jets for second in the Midwest Division with 14 points, one behind Kenai for the top spot. Forwards Cameron Buhl (three goals, 10 assists) and Matthew Stanton (six goals, six assists) have led the way for the explosive offense and Rooney said the Steel will need to deliver a more physical brand of hockey to be successful.
“It’s a divisional game against a team that is playing very well right now,” Rooney said on the matchup. “They have a lot of skill. But we’re going to have to up our physicality against the Magicians to tip the scale in our favor.”
Following Thursday’s game the Steel return home to play at Chippewa Ice Arena for the first time since Sept. 29 with a two-game set against the Wings. Aberdeen has a 6-2-1 record and is currently third in the Central Division, one point behind Austin and Minot for first.
Camden Thiesing leads the Steel in goals (five) and points (eight) while five players (Connor Szmul, Grant Reichenbacher, Tomas Vochozka, Killian Kicker-Olson and Grisha Gotovets) each have six points. This weekend’s set with the Wings starts a stretch of five out of six at home and eight of nine in the state of Wisconsin.
Rooney said the team will be announcing some roster moves during the week as it looks for the right lineup.
“We’re not content with close enough,” Rooney said. “We’re expecting results every time we hit the ice whether it’s a practice or a game. We’re far from satisfied right now and I’m not ashamed to say we’re frustrated but we’re trying to find the silver lining in every cloud because we dug ourselves a hole and no one’s going to feel sorry for us. So we’ve got to take responsibility for it and dig ourselves out.