Chippewa Steel head coach and general manager Al Rooney has spent the last few months crisscrossing the globe scouting talent for his team as they prepare for their first North American Hockey League season in Chippewa Falls this fall.
Since being named the team’s coach and GM in May, the team has built a roster of returners, tenders, draft picks and free agents to bring into the season. Rooney and his staff will get the chance to see many of those faces later this month when the team hosts its main camp later this month from July 17-20 at Chippewa Ice Arena.
“As of right now I’m pretty pleased with the group that we have coming in here for July 17 for that final tryout,” Rooney said.
That group is not short on speed or skill, two building blocks Rooney says he always tries to mold his team around.
“Quite honestly I’ve always been a coach that has steered towards a skill team,” Rooney said. “My teams, we certainly will play physical and there will be a call for that, but I wouldn’t say the hallmark of any of my teams are we play a really physical style and we fight and we do all that kind of stuff. I’m all about speed, skill and certainly work ethic.”
Earlier this month the regular season schedule for the NAHL was revealed and the Steel will open play at home on Friday, Sept. 14 against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at 7:10 p.m.
Rooney has a little downtime, time in which he will spend moving to Chippewa Falls and remaining in contact with free agents, some of whom could make an impact for the team.
“There’s always going to be a few of them that make the team each year,” Rooney said of late-signing free agents.
One of the next big projects for the Steel will come from selecting player host families for the 2018-19 season. The team is still accepting applications for host families. Players will be arriving late in August and staying through April and will take an active role in many aspects of family life and are expected to respect the host family rules and well as the rules of the team.
Host families are compensated $300 per month per player for groceries and expenses and also receive tickets to all Steel home games. In compliance with league rules, all housing family applicants must pass a criminal background check. For more information on being a host family, please contact Jake Serwe with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin the process.
In addition, the team will be hosting an informational meeting for potential host families during the four-day camp.
The Chippewa Ice Arena is also undergoing some changes as the latest stretch of upgrades to the facility are underway. Those improvements include to the locker rooms and coaches office where the Steel will call home. Rooney said those upgrades should be partially done by the start of the camp later this month and completed by the start of the season.
“We’re excited so far,” Rooney said. “I’m pretty pleased with the progress.”