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Steel preparing for their first game

NEW ULM — Thirty-four hockey players from eight states reported to the New Ulm Steel training camp that began Tuesday at the New Ulm Civic Center.

Fifteen of the players are returning Steel players from last year’s squad.

Steel head coach Zach Stepan, who is beginning his second season at the helm, said that bringing almost half of last year’s roster back somewhat depends on the hockey situation of each franchise.

“A lot of teams that do not have an affiliation in the NA (North American Hockey League) will probably go to more older players but then they lose between nine and ten older players,” Stepan said. “But for us having that affiliation with Chippewa (Falls in the NAHL), we can have a younger tem every year and shuffle players back and forth and can bring more players back.”

Stepan said that certain positions are penciled in already but there is a battle for many openings on the ice.

Some of the new players that Stepan is looking closely at are first-year players Tommy Michelson from Chicago and who played last season for Hill Murray High School in the Twin Cities.

“He is going to go to Chippewa’s training camp and see what happens. He has some wheels,” Stepan said. “And also Noah Rauschenberger from St. Thomas Academy is a bigger body player to watch.”

Stepan also sees Jaiz (Jimmy) Barner from Sioux City, Iowa and who played for the Indy Jr. Fuel U-18 team last year as a skater to keep an eye on.

“He will also go to Chippewa for training camp there and we will have to see what happens there,” Stepan said.

Goaltending should be a strength this season with five and possibly six battling for spots. A.J. Cohen and Zac Hattan return and the Steel also picked up Griffin Foster who played for the Breezy Point Northstars last season.

“And I know that fans from last year are wondering about goalie Igor Samokhvalov and where he is,” Stepan said. “But with everything going on he is still in Russia and we do not know what is going on with the embassy over there. So we will have to see what happens there. He potentially could come back but potentially may not be able to leave Russia. Hattan did not get a ton of games for us last year but did well and Cohen was a big piece for us last season.

“We also brought in Foster from Breezy and Nathan Hadley (New England Stars). Foster did not have the best team in front of him at Breezy but the games that Breezy was in was because of the play of Foster,” Stepan said.

One of the biggest issues for the Steel right now is finding billet (host families).

“That is because their kids who would have left for college now are still home doing on-line learning,” Stepan said.

And training camp has a few new wrinkles in it this year because of COVID-19.

“The players have to fill out a Google form every morning with a COVID checklist showing that they do not have symptoms and we have to check their temperatures and we have to submit that before they can do any team function for the day,” Stepan said. “They have to wear masks in the locker rooms — we now are splitting two locker rooms for the team — but it has not been too bad from the guideline standpoint.”

Last season, the Steel started the first half of the season with .500 record.

“But we had a 17-game winning streak late in the season to get us to 34 wins in the season,” Stepan said.

Last year, the Steel averaged more than 500 fans a game. This season, that number will be held at 250 fans a game and no more.

And the Steel home season is just a week away as they open at 7:10 p.m. October 2 at against Willmar and then host Alexandria on Saturday also at 7:10 p.m.

Game tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for students (12-17 years of age) and will be sold only at the door for each game. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

There will be no season tickets sold and all fans must wear masks.

Also if you want to be a billet (host) family you can contact Zach Stepan at 612-518-0894.

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