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NAHL | Chippewa Steel

NAHL: 'Less is more' for surging, sizable Chippewa goaltender Kochendorfer

U.S. Women's Olympic National Team vs Chippewa Steel 12-6-21

Chippewa's Croix Kochendorfer plays a puck during a scrimmage against the U.S. Women's Olympic National Team on Dec. 6, 2021 at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

The goaltender is always in the spotlight.

With first-year Chippewa Steel netminder Croix Kochendorfer, that light might need to be a bit bigger.

Standing at 6-foot-4 and weighing 220 pounds, Kochendorfer is the largest player on the Steel roster and in recent weeks has settled in as a steady presence in net for the Steel as the team hits the second half.

Kochendorfer has allowed two goals or fewer in six of his last seven appearances and posted his first North American Hockey League shutout last Saturday night as he stopped all 31 shots faced in a 3-0 Steel victory at the Minnesota Wilderness. It took some time for Kochendorfer to settle into the groove of playing junior hockey, but the Saint Paul native has rounded into form as the Steel begin their playoff push.

Croix Kochendorfer

Kochendorfer

“I’m definitely grateful for my size,” Kochendorfer said. “That’s sort of a given, and you’ve just got to work hard.”

Chippewa coach Casey Mignone said Kochendorfer has not only gotten more comfortable and built up a routine but has also learned that when you’re 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, sometimes a lot of movement isn’t needed to stop pucks.

Casey Mignone Headshot (Chippewa)

Mignone

“He’s big and he’s athletic and he’s always used his athleticism in the net,” Mignone said of Kochendorfer. “I think less is more with him, just being square, being on your angle (and) letting pucks hit you that aren’t going to go in. If they’re not going to go in, there’s no need to make a save or put yourself out of position for the next one.”

Mignone believes Saturday’s shutout was a building point for Kochendorfer as he held the Wilderness off the scoreboard to lead the Steel to the victory.

“A lot of pucks hit him right in the chest, which to me says he’s reading the play well and on time and square, which is all really good,” Mignone said.

Growing up in Minnesota, the sport of hockey was a constant in Kochendorfer’s life since he was small. Kochendorfer started with hockey as a position player but was moved in the net out of necessity and quickly fell in love with that aspect of the game.

“I loved it,” Kochendorfer said of being introduced to goaltending. “I’ll never forget one of my favorite coaches Joe Harris said we needed a goalie, and I was super young and I was all for it. I hopped in net, and I didn’t get out.”

Overall, Kochendorfer has a 10-9 record this season with a 2.62 goals against average while stopping 91% of shots faced in 21 games. He was named the Midwest Division Star of the Week after a 40-save effort in Chippewa’s 3-1 win over Kenai River on Oct. 23.

Kochendorfer is one of 13 rookies currently on the Chippewa roster, and those new faces have quickly bonded in their first four-plus months in Chippewa Falls.

“We have a younger group of guys, and we have a great group of guys as well,” Kochendorfer said. “I think we all gel really well together and we all get along, and that’s just a huge, huge key to being successful.”

Chippewa starts the week with a 17-15-0-1 record and 35 points, good for fifth place in the Midwest Division standings. The Steel hit the road for Richfield, Minn., to face the Minnesota Magicians on Wednesday before returning home for a Friday game against rival Janesville at Chippewa Area Ice Arena. The Magicians have won four of the first seven meetings of the season, while Friday’s matchup with Wisconsin’s other NAHL squad marks the first time the Steel and Jets have matched up this season. Beginning Friday, the Steel and Jets will meet eight times through March 19.

The Steel have 27 games left in the regular season as they seek their first playoff berth since moving to Chippewa Falls in 2018, and Mignone is pleased with the progress his team has made.

“The guys are really starting to take some ownership in what we’re trying to do and the process of getting better, and you’re seeing them hold each other accountable and that’s great,” Mignone said. “That’s when you know teams are starting to figure things out.”

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