The Chippewa Steel have played 50 games this season, but have yet to face division opponent Springfield.
That will all change on Friday at Chippewa Area Ice Arena, and change quickly. Chippewa will play its next eight games over four weekends against the Junior Blues.
“Normally when you get this late in the season you’ve at least already played teams a couple of times,” Steel interim coach Carter Foguth said. “It’s just different from that standpoint, but at the same time we play them eight times in a row so hopefully by the end of it we will know what they are doing and what they aren’t doing.”
By this time in the season teams are usually basing their strategy on what has been seen on the ice but having not faced Springfield the Steel coaching staff will need to develop a gameplan based on scouting video.
“The only thing that is different is the fact that maybe the first four games you focus a lot on video,” Foguth said. “After that, once you played a team that many times straight you focus less on video and what they’re doing and start to focus more on what you want to do.”
Over the weekend the Steel (16-31-2-1) were eliminated from postseason contention and the four Midwest Division teams are nearly locked up with Springfield holding a 15-point edge on Kenai River for the final spot.
Springfield (26-20-3-1) is still fighting for postseason positioning and will come to Chippewa Area Ice Arena motivated to improve its seed. It trails third-seeded Janesville by one point and is eight points back of the division-leading Minnesota Magicians.
“They’re an aggressive team. They like to send guys, they’re constantly coming at you with pressure,” Foguth said. “They’re a good team. They’ve probably been one of the hottest teams, at least in our division, over the last two months.”
While the goal at the start of the season was to qualify for the playoffs and that no longer is attainable the team is still 100 percent committed to finishing the year strong.
“We have a bunch of kids that just want to get better so that’s our main goal at this point,” forward Camden Thiesing said. “Everyone is still here to become the best players they possibly can be before the end of the season.”
The Steel showed that fight last Saturday getting a 5-4 shootout win over the state-rival Janesville Jets. Chippewa fell behind 2-0 giving up a first period goal before the Jets added another shortly into the second.
Then Chippewa showed fight scoring four times in the remainder of the period.
“I thought the biggest thing is we needed a spark,” Foguth said. “We had a little bit of a scrum in the second period where we had some guys step up that don’t normally get involved physically and the guys kind of got motivated off that.”
Janesville evened the score in the third to force overtime but goalie Josh Langford stopped all four Janesville shots in the extra period. In the shootout Killian Kiecker-Olson matched a Janesville score and later Thiesing nabbed the game-winner for a 2-1 shootout advantage.
“We just got eliminated from playoffs but we’ve got guys that are willing to buy in and get through and find a way to win that game,” Foguth said. “I thought that said a lot about the guys.”
Just 10 games remain for the Steel — with a home and road series with the Minnesota Magicians to close the year — in their first season in Chippewa Falls. While there is disappointment in not reaching the postseason the team still has motivation to play out the season. The wins haven’t been there but the bonds between teammates has.
The team has two long bus rides to Springfield in the weeks to come but Thiesing is looking forward to it.
“I’m looking forward to spending it with the team,” he said of the road trips. “This team is never going to be the same after this year.”
A competitive spirit will keep the Steel fighting until the final horn in the season finale on April 6.
“You know you’re eliminated but at the same time I know I’m a competitive guy and they’re competitive guys,” Foguth said. “Every time you get on the ice regardless of who you’re playing or what the situation is you want to win. That’s kind of where we’re at for the last little bit.”