The Chippewa Steel returned to Chippewa Falls at the start of the week coming off a successful two-week stretch in Alaska.
Chippewa won three of five games up north and are back in action at Chippewa Area Ice Arena this week with a Thursday evening matchup with the Minnesota Wilderness before hosting the Minnesota Magicians on Saturday. The Steel (8-8-0-0) split a pair of games in Fairbanks on Oct. 15 and 16 before winning the first and last game of a three-game weekend series in Kenai last weekend. Taking two of three with the Brown Bears continued a successful start to the season for the Steel against their fellow Midwest Division foe after sweeping two games at the start of the year.
“It’s hard to beat every time you play them. We’ve played Kenai five times and we’re 4-1,” Chippewa coach Casey Mignone said. “They compete hard and they’re much improved from when they were here the first time.”
Chippewa goaltender Croix Kochendorfer earned Midwest Division Star of the Week honors recently for his play against the Brown Bears. Kochendorfer won both of his starts against Kenai, stopping 58 of 61 shots overall and for the season has a 4-4-0 record with a 2.80 goals against average and .897 save percentage.
The two-week excursion to Alaska also gave the team valuable bonding time. That time included a trip to the Chena Hot Springs in Fairbanks as well as plenty of travel time throughout the time away.
“The boys spent so much time together,” Mignone said. “It’s a lot of fun, they had a good time. Alaska is just an incredible place. The scenery is just outstanding.”
Following Saturday night’s 3-1 win over Kenai the Steel spent all day Sunday traveling back to Wisconsin before a much needed Monday off day. The team jumped back into practice Tuesday to start preparations for both of this week’s matchups, contests against teams just above the Steel in the Midwest Division standings.
“You come back a closer group so I think that’s what you’re hoping for and you can build off of it,” Mignone said. “I thought (Tuesday’s) practice was one on our better ones this year.”
The Wilderness (8-3-1-0) and Magicians (8-5-1-0) are tied for third place in the division standings with 17 points, one point above the Steel. Most recently the Wilderness won a pair of games over Janesville last week while the Magicians had last weekend off. Chippewa has yet to meet either team this season but will see plenty of both in the coming months with 10 games apiece versus the Wilderness and Magicians before the end of the regular season in mid-April.
Mignone said the players will also getting out for community service events in the coming weeks, reading to students at local schools and helping out with youth hockey practices.
“We took care of some business on the road trip and now getting into the uncharted territory of playing teams we haven’t played yet,” Mignone said. “We’ve got to find a way to keep stacking up points.”
Photos: Anchorage Wolverines at Chippewa Steel 9-30-21
Chippewa Steel rookie forward Nick Sajevic scored in his first game and has quickly emerged as a dependable player for the North American Hockey League team. Sajevic enters Friday's home game against the Minnesota Wilderness tied for third on the team in points.
The Chippewa Steel have been straddling the .500 line for the last few weeks as they enter two games this week against the Minnesota Magicians with Saturday's home game being Veterans Appreciation Night at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.
The Chippewa Steel are one of six teams jockeying for position atop the Midwest Division. Chippewa Falls' North American Hockey League squad aims for another strong weekend as the Steel face the Minnesota Wilderness at home Thursday and on the road Saturday.