New Ulm Steel begin practice for 2017-18 season

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Steel of the NA3HL begin their second season in New Ulm on Wednesday when they begin practice at the New Ulm Civic Center.

And it will be a Steel team that is deep on defense with seven defensemen returning in Bayler Kraus (New Ulm), Sam Storlie (Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin), Vitaly Nosov (Brookeville, Maryland), Alec Moser (Devils Lake, North Dakota), Max Kjome (Minneapolis), Trevor Woytcke (Mound, Minnesota) and Steve Mordini (Baraboo, Wisconsin).

New defensemen coming to the Steel this season are Castor Mattos (Kaneohe, Hawaii) and Dylan Boysen (Rochester, Minnesota). Both Mattos and Boysen can also play forward.

“We only bring back two returning forwards in Alex Nagel (Antigo, Wisconsin) and Luc Kreuser (Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin) so up front it is going to be a totally new look,” first-year Steel coach Andrew Kolb said. “But we have a lot of veterans on the defense. In order to win a championship, you need defense and you need goaltending.”

Moser is back with the Steel after tearing his ACL early last season.

Goaltending will see new faces in the forms of Ryan Kenney (Madison, Wisconsin), Ryan Bielenberg (Northfield, Minnesota), Jack Raymond (New Ulm) and Ben Colwell (Mitchell, South Dakota).

Raymond is still attending New Ulm High School and will be with the Steel until high school hockey starts when he will return to the Eagles.

With only Kreuser and Nagel returning at forward, this may be a team that have a lot of low-scoring games.

“In my opinion, you have to build from the net out,” Kolb said. “We have a good tandem in goal in Kenney and Bielenberg — they are both good goalies and they will come in and compete for that No. 1 job. We may alternate if they are both playing well but we are going to have to eventually identify a No. 1 goalie. And on paper right now I do not see why we should allow more than two goals a game.

“But at the same time we have to score from our forwards but our defensive core can also score. We could have three or four defensemen who are over the 20-point mark. We have a corps of defensemen who have over 500 combined games of experience.”

Kreuser and Nagel are forwards who are proven scorers, each scoring more than 50 points last season and familiar names to Steel fans from last season.

“We will be young up front,” Kolb said. “But we did pick up a forward in Tom Reilly (White Bear Lake, Minnesota), who played in this league two years ago. But we are not going to win a lot of hockey games scoring two goals a game so we are going to have to double that.”

The Steel bring in Kirk Coppick (Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada), who Kolb said was eager and ready to go.

“He is a great kid, a funny kid; he plays the game hard and physical but he is also skilled as well,” Kolb said. “Last season he had 48 points in just over 30 games in the USPHL [United States Premier Hockey League] so I am looking for him to produce up front as well. He is a big addition for us.”

One player who has impressed Kolb is Brandon Mehlhop, who played last year for New Ulm High School.

“I really lke the way he played in camp this summer,” Kolb said. “I watched him in high school but the big question is how is he going to do in Junior Hockey with the physical play. He can contribute a lot.”

Another new forward with local ties is former New Ulmite Nick Wieben.

“He played in Omaha last year and wants to play the NA3HL and he was one of the last cuts in Austin in the NAHL,” Kolb said. “Jack Parks from Lakeville North and Branden Penz from Apple Valley are players who can hold their own. Jimmy Miller (Mankato, Minnesota), Brian Oare (Delano, Minnesota), Oliver Hoeschen (St. Paul) can all help us. It may take them five games to adjust to the speed but we like where we are at offensively.”

Kolb looks for defending Silver Cup champion and divisional rival Granite City as the team to beat along with North Iowa.

The Steel begin their home season at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 23, when they host Willmar at the New Ulm Civic Center.