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New Ulm Steel set to resume practice

By Jim Bastian

Journal Sports Writer

NEW ULM — After a layoff of five and a half weeks, the New Ulm Steel NA3HL team resumed practice Monday at the New Ulm Civic Center.

Steel head coach Zach Stepan said that the first day back after the layoff, his players were tired.

“Because of the state-mandated rule of the 25 players at one time max, what we have are two separate pods of 12 players on the ice for 45 minutes and then the other 12 players for 45 minutes,” Stepan said. “That is not very long time but we still had players struggling. But the select few that were not from Minnesota and went home (during the break) where they did not have any restrictions on the rinks and were able to skate were OK. But a big chunk of my team is from Minnesota and they had no access to ice at all. So this next two weeks is going to be more about just getting their legs back under them and getting them the feeling of basically coming off a summer break.”

One of the new restrictions that has been put in is the wearing of masks by all hockey players including the NA3HL.

“As of right now masks are (worn) on the ice for practice and for games,” Stepan said. “But that is something that we are looking into because adult and youth hockey are the regulations that we are going by. However (Junior Hockey) is not necessarily in either of those categories, so we are trying to figure out what we work into. In the World Junior game Tuesday night between the United States and Canada, no one was wearing a mask. Those players are the same age kids as my kids for the Steel, so why are we wearing masks and they are not? But at the same time we will go with whatever mandate that comes because we want to make sure that everybody is safe.”

And wearing a cloth mask in addition to a helmet, visor and mouthguard can be uncomfortable and awkward for players.

“The CCM masks that have been cleared by the state for the youth organizations, those do attach inside the facemask but they attach behind the chinguard so there is a little bit of space,” Stepan said. “I do not seeing those being an issue. But then the problem that you run into in Junior Hockey is the visors. There is nothing in back to attach to to create that space so players are wearing masks right up against their facemasks. The things that are being looked at is what happens when a mask gets wet, what is the breathing like with a mouthguard had a mask on. And the last thing that is really being looked at is vision-impairment with how far some of these masks stick out and now you can’t see and injuries happen.”

And there is the possibility of in a complete game that when a player sweats the mask could freeze up.

Stepan said that as far as a game schedule goes, the NA3HL West and all owners are going to have a tele-conference Thursday.

“That will be more of trying to see how many games we want to try and get in and it seems like we are going to try and get all of the games in, “Stepan said. “Once we have that number and the amount of weekends that the league will allow us — they did allow us to extend the season two weeks — they are looking at maybe going to three games a week with the possibility of games on a Wednesday, two games in a day, games Friday, Saturday and Sunday.”

Despite the shutdown, the Steel did make a player move trading forward. They traded Marcus Mack to the Oregon, Wisconsin Tradesman.

“He is closer to home there, and he wanted to keep playing.”

Stepan expects games to start around Jan. 21.

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