The Chippewa Steel will embark on its first true road trip of the North American Hockey League season starting this week when they travel to Alaska for a pair of two-games sets over the next two weeks.
The Steel (3-5) face the Kenai River Brown Bears this weekend before traveling to Fairbanks to meet the Ice Dogs on Oct. 12-13. The trip is the first of two Chippewa will make to Alaska and is the first true road trip of the season for the team. Previously the team took part in the neutral site NAHL Showcase on Sept. 19-22 in Blaine, Minn.
“I’m actually excited. I think the guys are excited about it,” Chippewa coach Al Rooney said. “I think it’s an opportunity to really bring the team together. We haven’t really traveled like this and stayed in hotel rooms. So often trips like this make a team forced to come together and spend more time (together). I think it’s a great time of year for this to happen. We’ve struggled as of late, so I think this is going to be good medicine for us to spend more time and circle the wagons.”
Chippewa heads into the trip on a three-game losing streak after falling in both matchups last weekend with the Janesville Jets. Janesville edged Chippewa 2-1 on Friday in Janesville before scoring the final five goals of a 5-1 win at Chippewa Area Ice Arena on Saturday.
“No disrespect to Janesville because they earned themselves four points and well deserved, but at the same time I thought even strength we outplayed them on Friday and they scored two power play goals and they get the win,” Rooney said. “We didn’t score enough. I thought the first 35 minutes of the Saturday night game we outplayed Janesville, outchancing them.”
The Jets scored two goals in the final 5:33 of the second period to take the lead after Camden Theising opened the scoring on a goal 23 seconds into the second period off assists from Tomas Vochozka and Matt Clark.
“We watched video and I demonstrated to the guys that when we’re controlling games and our opponents, we’re not generating enough quality opportunities to ourselves,” Rooney said. “We need to play faster, we need to play with better chances.”
The Steel will look to turn up the offensive firepower this week as they open the trip with two games against the Midwest Division leading Kenai River Brown Bears. Early in the season the standings in the division remain tight with five points separating first-place Kenai and last-place Fairbanks.
Kenai is coming off a weekend series split with Springfield, each by 3-2 finals. The Brown Bears are led offensively by forwards Zach Krajnik (two goals and seven assists) and Michael Spethmann (two goals and four assists) and defenseman Markuss Komuls (one goal and seven assists).
The Steel made a pair of roster moves this week in an effort to gain physicality, acquiring forwards Kiryll Ulanov and Easton Easterson. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Ulanov played in 16 games for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Knights last season before appearing in two games this year with the Shreveport Mudbugs. Easterson appeared in two games for the Aberdeen Wings thus far this year.
“Both of those guys will see time up in Alaska and if all goes well this should be the lineup mix for us moving forward,” Rooney said of the new acquisitions.
The team placed defenseman Matt Clark on the injured reserve list Tuesday. Clark appeared in each of the team’s first eight games of the season and logged one assist before suffering an injury in Monday’s practice. He will miss the next several weeks. Goaltender Josh Langford has been called up to the Sioux Falls Stampede of United States Hockey League. The University of Maine commit Langford has a 1-2 record with a 3.33 goals against average in three starts for the Steel.
Chippewa has two goaltenders remaining on its roster with Owen Zdunski and Jackson Bernard. Zdunski had made a team-high four starts in net, posting a 2-2 record and a 2.25 GAA.