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New Ulm Steel continue to struggle

NEW ULM — Late last season, the New Ulm Steel ran off a 15-game winning streak.

This season, the Steel have dropped their first five NA3HL West Division contests after a 6-1 road loss Saturday against North Iowa.

Steel coach Zach Stepan, who has been on the bench for both streaks, said that — taking out the three-goal third period by the Bulls Saturday — that his team has played 15 even periods of hockey.

“But somehow we get these two to three-minute spans where our bad is really bad,” Stepan said Monday during practice. “And then the other team pops a couple of goals on us. From that point we are chasing the game. I think that a lot of that has to do with the amount of new players that we have who are getting used to the speed of the game. We do have two very capable goalies and they are making the saves that they are supposed to make. We just need that one momentum shift to turn the tide in our direction.

“I do think that we have the pieces,” Stepan said about his team that hopes to break into the win column Saturday night at Willmar (2-3). “This is a very good learning experience for not only the players but for me because I have never as a coach or player been in this position before. So I am learning as we go as well — this (streak) is on me too so I have to look in the mirror on how to motivate these players and figure out how to get all of them on the same page.”

Stepan referenced last season’s winning steak as an example of how fickle streaks can be.

“Last year we won plenty of games that we had no business of winning but somehow we got that bounce,” he said. “Right now we are not getting that bounce. Maybe as a team we are a little snake-bitten but that is where that mental piece comes into it for you.”

The Steel have also seen key players like Nick Wieben, Nate Looft and Tommy Michelsen promoted to NAHL Chippewa Falls. Plus they have had five players who have had to quarantine for 14 days.

“From that standpoint it has not been a great start to our season so at one time I had about seven players who I could not use,” he said.

“It is a love-hate relationship when you lose two forwards and four top defensemen to Chippewa but that is their goal,” Stepan said. “If we don’t get them back we still need to find a way to win hockey games. We need to find a way to string some wins together.”

The Steel will be bolstered this week by the return of Teddy Lillico, Jake Saver and Jake Henthorne from quarantine.

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