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Fairbanks Ice Dogs at Chippewa Steel 12-29-18

Fans celebrate behind the glass with a player after a Chippewa goal on Dec. 29, 2018 at Chippewa Area Ice Area.

Everyone looks at wins and losses.

For the Chippewa Steel in its first season the wins and losses were important, but secondary.

Building a foundation both on and off the ice that sets the Steel up for success moving forward became the goal.

“The standings weren’t where we wanted to be but I thought there were a lot of great things behind the scenes that set us up for future success,” Steel coach Carter Foguth said.

Creating a positive culture around the team and growing relationships away from the ice can provide value in future seasons. A supportive locker room became key for a Chippewa team that faced its fair share of adversity in its inaugural season.

First was the early-season 13-game losing streak and then a coaching change. As soon as the second half of the schedule began Chippewa became more competitive consistently. In the second half the Steel went 10-15-1-0, better than the 14 games under .500 it was in the first half.

Chippewa finished 19-38-2-1 overall and in fifth place in the Midwest Division.

After three straight four-goal losses in the final weeks of the season, the Steel bounced back from a two-goal deficit to earn a 4-3 overtime win over the playoff-bound Minnesota Magicians in the season finale. Foguth said the fight until the very end showed the result of the culture they’ve been trying to establish.

“They very easily could have mailed it in and said ‘let’s just get through this one’ but they kept fighting and fighting and fighting and pulled off a pretty good win which again says a lot about the guys that we had down there (in the locker room),” Foguth said.

Where the Steel made the biggest strides this season was their work in the community. The organization made it a point for the players to get out into the community and interact with fans, specifically younger fans. Foguth said his experiences in junior hockey motivated him to make it an emphasis for his players to grow as people away from the rink.

“I think it’s just as important for these guys to come and work hard on the ice and improve on the ice as it is to get off the ice and improve off the ice,” Foguth said.

Foguth called the community service projects a win-win for the team and those who are being helped. Some of the players are quiet and he said pushing the guys beyond their comfort zones helps them grow as individuals.

With all the support of the fans attending the games, Foguth said it isn’t too much to ask for them to return the favor.

“I think it’s good that the community comes out and supports us for the games I think the least we can do is go back and give back to the community that way,” he said.

The Steel averaged 624 fans per home game this season at Chippewa Area Ice Arena. The team drew a season-high 1,112 fans for its season opener, a 3-1 win over the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Sept. 14. The team’s second-highest attended game came in its regular season finale last Saturday when 846 fans came out to see Chippewa’s overtime win.

Overall Chippewa’s per-game attendance in the regular season ranked 17th out of the NAHL’s 24 franchises.

Where the Steel saw the biggest support was from the billet families that hosted the players during the season. Foguth said the team didn’t have any issues as the families were very flexible if there were any last minute housing needs. From everything he heard families and players each had positive experiences.

“Those are the type of people that you can’t thank enough,” Foguth said of the billet families. “They’re a huge part of what we do and without them we wouldn’t be able to survive. I can’t thank them enough on a personal level and I know the players appreciate it too.”

While Chippewa didn’t reach playoffs or win more game than it lost it still was a positive year for the organization. Foguth said the team established a culture that should pay dividends down the road. The organization can also take solace in that it has a community willing to support it.

“The on-ice results aren’t where we want them to be just yet, but if you have the right culture and good people that takes you a step in the right direction,” Foguth said, “and that’s what I think we had this year.”

“The standings weren’t where we wanted to be but I thought there were a lot of great things behind the scenes that set us up for future success.” - Chippewa Steel coach Carter Foguth

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