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NAHL | Chippewa Steel

NAHL: After starting strong at NAHL Showcase, Chippewa Steel eager to carry momentum into home opener against Anchorage

NAHL: Springfield Jr. Blues at Chippewa Steel 4-8-22

Chippewa forward Joe Kelly defends during a game against the Springfield Jr. Blues on April 8 at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

The Chippewa Steel started the season strong last week at the NAHL Showcase.

The Steel took three of four games to grab some early momentum as Chippewa readies to open its home schedule beginning Thursday with three games against the Anchorage Wolverines at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

Victories over the Johnstown Tomahawks, Corpus Christi IceRays and Northeast Generals started the week before a late rally fell short in a 3-1 loss to the Austin Bruins on Saturday. The Steel were strong in all phases, outscoring their four opponents by a 15-5 margin.

“I liked our compete, our tenacity throughout the weekend,” Chippewa coach Casey Mignone said. “Obviously never fun to lose the last game but you take 3-1 coming out of that showcase all day.”

Offensively the Steel started strong with eight different players finding the net in those four games. Eau Claire native Joe Kelly led the charge with four goals including two in the opener against the Tomahawks and five points overall. Kelly was named the Midwest Division’s Star of the Week for his efforts.

Minnesota State University commit Kade Nielsen also had three against Johnstown and another versus the Generals while fellow forwards Matthew Brille and Cody Kempf each scored twice. Ryan Remick, Joey Sylvester, Hudson Zinda and Bryceon Lago lit the lamp one time each while defenseman Shawn Ramsey assisted on three goals and J.J. Grainda and Peyton Platter had two helpers during the showcase.

Mignone said he liked how his team showed scoring ability in all four lines and wants to continue that as the season gets underway.

“It’s great getting a bunch of guys on the board early, getting their confidence up,” Mignone said. “It’s tough when that first goal kind of alludes you for a little bit. You start to grip the stick a little bit because you want to score so badly. It’s nice to have a bunch of guys get on the board early and take that weight of the pressure of their shoulders.”

Adam Gajan and Carter Wishart were strong in net in the first week for the Steel. The rookie goaltenders stopped a combined 108 of 112 shots faced in the four games. Gajan was 2-0 with a save percentage just shy of 97 percent while Wishart was 1-1 with a save percentage of better than 95 percent and posted a shutout in the victory over Corpus Christi.

Chippewa exits the first full week of the season in third place out of eight teams in the Midwest Division standings behind the Janesville Jets (4-0-0-0) and Fairbanks Ice Dogs (4-2-0-0).

The next five games and seven of the next nine games are at home for the Steel, beginning Thursday night against the Wolverines. Anchorage is off to a 1-2-1-0 start to the season after finishing 33-19-4-4 last season, advancing to the Robertson Cup championship game in the franchise’s first year of existence.

The Wolverines are led offensively by forward Jackson Reineke (one goal, two assists) and defenseman Danny Reis (one goal, two assists).

“It’s obviously great to have some momentum coming out of that first week in the showcase and a lot of buzz on our players for the colleges, which is always awesome,” Mignone said. “But now getting into the division schedule and three against Anchorage who had a tremendous year last year. We want to keep the ball rolling. We said hey you win three of four all year you’re going to be in a good spot.”

Overall the Steel play seven of their next nine games at home and all nine games in the state of Wisconsin before taking a two-week trip to Alaska in mid-October to play the Fairbanks Ice Dogs and Kenai River Brown Bears.

This weekend’s three-game set against the Wolverines is also heavy on promotions to start the season. The Steel are giving away rally towels at Thursday’s home opener before $2 beer night on Friday and community night on Saturday where the first 50 fans receive free admission to the game.

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