Hockey games aren’t won or lost in the first few minutes.
But uphill climbs from early holes are something the Chippewa Steel are looking to eliminate entering a North American Hockey League split weekend series with the Janesville Jets this Friday and Saturday.
The Steel (3-3) are coming off a 1-3 showing last week at the NAHL Showcase. Chippewa defeated the Lone Star Brahmas and lost to the Jamestown Rebels, Amarillo Bulls and Topeka Pilots at the event, allowing three goals in the first period in each of the team’s losses. The Steel held Lone Star to one second-period goal in their victory.
“It’s defense first and not getting ourselves overextended,” Chippewa Steel coach Al Rooney said of how to stop the slow starts. “Our youth has a tenancy sometimes to get overcommitted in bad areas and that allows odd-man rushes going the other way. We’ve got to make sure we have defensive numbers and when we have that established I think we can start to focus on…I always preach that we want to defend and play offense as a five-man unit.”
While the team has started slow in several games, Rooney has been pleased with how his young team has competed on a game-by-game basis.
“I was pleased with our compete level. We never stopped going,” Rooney said. “Obviously our consistency needs to improve with a young group. I spoke all summer about with the young group we have, we’re going have some bumps in the road early.”
Chippewa enters the third week of the regular season tied with the Minnesota Magicians for second place in the Midwest Division with six points. The Steel face the Jets for the first two of 10 regular season matchups. Friday’s game is hosted in Janesville before both teams will hit the highway to Chippewa for Saturday evening’s contest at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.
The Jets are 2-4 overall with four points, tied with the Springfield Jr. Blues for fourth in the Midwest standings. Janesville opened the season by being swept by the Kenai River Brown Bears in a two-game series before scoring victories over Lone Star and the Shreveport Mudbugs at the NAHL Showcase.
Janesville is led offensively by defenseman Andrew Hicks (three goals, two assists) and forwards Erik Bargholtz and TJ Sagissor (two goals and two assists each). The Jets went 38-13-9 and were second in the Midwest Division standings before advancing to the second round of the playoffs last season. Chi-Hi graduate Jordan Steinmetz played for the Jets last year and is currently in camp with the Sioux City Musketeers of the Tier 1 United States Hockey League.
“This has definitely been a highlight on the schedule because it’s our in-state rival,” Rooney said of facing Janesville. “I think based on the early season results for both teams, above and beyond the rivalry both teams just need results right now. Janesville is a great organization with a great coaching staff. They haven’t gotten off to the start they were hoping for either, so I think first and foremost both coaching staffs are looking to just get back into the win column, bounce back and figure out an identity for their team.”
Saturday’s home matchup will also be the last game for the Steel at the ice arena until an Oct. 19 meeting with the Aberdeen Wings. Next week the Steel will begin a two-week trip to Alaska to face the Kenai River Brown Bears and Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
Earlier this year the two teams unveiled the Blain’s Farm and Fleet America’s Dairyland Milk Can trophy, the traveling trophy the teams will vie for each season. Like the Steel, Janesville is still a work in progress with a fluid roster so Rooney said the focus this weekend will be less on what Janesville might throw at the Steel and more about Chippewa trying to be sharp on its tactics.
“The main focus is on Friday night. We’ve got to come out and get a good start,” Rooney said. “We can’t give our opponent these multiple-goal leads. I’m not much one for moral victories and saying ‘Hey, at least we played really well’. We’ve got to put together 60 minutes and be a tough team to play against.”