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Stepan, Steel prep for upcoming NA3HL season

NEW ULM — It has been a big jump in a short period of time for Zach Stepan, the first-year head coach of the New Um Steel hockey team.

“Last season I got a call to become the assistant coach at the Chippewa Steel halfway through the season, and then now walking right into a head coaching job with the Steel for this year,” Stepan said. “So I am kind of learning as much as I can on the go.”

While there are a lot of aspects to being the head coach compared to an assistant coach, Stepan said that the biggest difference he has found is in the recruiting process.

“That is because in this league (NA3HL) it is a pay-to-play league, so you need to recruit a little bit differently than you do at the NAHL (North American Hockey League, which is a non-pay league),” he said. “You want to recruit kids that you know you can help to get to that level.”

The Chippewa Steel are an NAHL team.

Stepan said that having two different level teams in the same organization is a big plus.

“That affiliation is huge for recruiting.” Stepan said. “It makes my life a lot easier when it comes to recruiting because it gives kids an opportunity to be seen by an NAHL coach more than a team that is not affiliated with the NAHL. So from a recruiting standpoint, it is a little easier because of that.”

Last season, the Steel were a young team and Stepan feels that being young is the way he would like to go this season.

The NA3HL is a developmental league to help players get into NAHL or college hockey.

“That gives us time to develop players in New Ulm to be a feeder system for Chippewa,” he said. “I do not think that Chippewa is going to be very young this season, but we may be a little young here.

“We do also have some players from last year who have verbally committed to coming back to New Ulm this season, so we should be sitting pretty good.”

Stepan said that his biggest question mark going into training camp, which is August 30 through September 1, is how good his recruiting is.

New Ulm Steel players will then report September 6 to get the season started.

“Myself, (assistant coach) Nick Campbell and (General Manager) Bryant Black have been looking at that. We are trying to get the same kind of players that Chippewa is,” he said.” “It is not necessarily going out and finding all of the best players. It is finding the right ones.”

Stepan said that being a former player and a relatively young head coach does help him.

“The nice thing about being a player a couple of years removed from the league is that I understand that the game is changing and that has been a recruiting point,” he said. “The players know that the game has changed from when I played Junior Hockey. We are going to be more offensive-minded because that is the way that the game is going.”

Steel fans in New Ulm will be able to see two new teams here.

The St. Louis Junior Blues will be in New Ulm for games November 15 and 16, while the Peoria Mustangs will be in New Ulm on January 17 and 18.

The Steel open the season September 14 at Granite City, with the Steel home opener October 17 when they host the Alexandria Blizzard.

If interested in purchasing season tickets, call General Manager Bryant Black at 320-760-3030 after August 30.

BILLET FAMILIES NEEDED: if you are interested in being a billet (host) family for a Steel hockey player this year, please contact Black at 320-760-3030 ASAP.

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