Last weekend the North American Hockey League team's offense broke out in a big way, scoring a combined 13 goals in a pair of victories over the Minnesota Wilderness.
Chippewa (14-11-0-1) looks to build off that scoring success this week with two games against the Minnesota Wilderness this Friday and Saturday. Last week's set of games started slowly as Chippewa fell behind Minnesota 3-0 after the first period of Friday's game at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.
First-year Chippewa coach Casey Mignone said the team had a heart-to-heart conversation after that initial period and the Steel showed immediate results, scoring seven of the final nine goals of the game including five goals in the third period of a 7-5 win. Momentum carried over into Saturday night's game in Minnesota where the Steel rolled to a 6-1 win.
“To their credit they responded really well," Mignone said. "It was a really good five periods after that first period Friday night.”
Eau Claire native Joe Kelly netted a hat trick in Friday's win with his third goal of the game tying the score at five.
“I felt like the past few weeks we’ve been really close to getting over the hump and this last weekend it seemed like we were getting all the bounces to go our way," Kelly said of the team's scoring outburst. "It wasn’t by mistake or luck, all this hard work we put in was finally clicking together now.”
All four lines scored in Friday's win with Jack Brown added two goals and Parker Gnos and Joseph Grainda finding the net. Saturday's 6-1 rout featured goals from six different players — Ethan Benz, Jax Schauer, Ethan Janda, Matthew Brille, Brown and Kelly.
“We’ve been getting a lot of chances on a lot of shots and not having that many results," Mignone said. "I think just sticking with it and continuing to go to the dirty areas paid off.”
The two wins moved Chippewa up to third place in the Midwest Division standings with 29 points, four points behind Fairbanks in first and two points back of Springfield in second.
Chippewa has won two of the first three meetings of the season with the Magicians, most recently sweeping series on Nov. 12 and 13. The Magicians are sixth in the Midwest Division standings with 26 points and are coming off a 1-2 week in which Minnesota defeated the Minnesota Wilderness 5-4 before falling in two games at Janesville.
The Steel play four of their final six games of the calendar year against the Magicians. The two teams also meet up on Dec. 17 and 18 before the Steel take a two-week break. Kelly said the team is looking to finish that stretch strong going into some time off. Mignone and his staff kept things light, but competitive, at the start of the week as the team looks to keep its offense playing at a high level.
“That’s the age old question – how do you keep that momentum going?" Mignone said. "We had a fun (Monday) just 3-on-3, keeping it light but stay on the gas and feel like we’re getting better. (We had) a really good practice day (Tuesday) and just keep the focus for the next three weeks. Three weeks of games, six games until we get a nice, job extended Christmas break then we can reset.
"But we’ve really got to stay plugged in until then.”
Photos: Anchorage Wolverines at Chippewa Steel 9-30-21