February a cold month for New Ulm Steel
NEW ULM — The month of February has not been a good one for the New Ulm Steel.
After a 3-2 win over Granite City on February 3, the Steel have lost six straight games following a 4-1 loss Sunday on the road to Granite City.
The loss puts them at 4-19-2 and are now 13 points behind fourth place Alexandria in a now quickly fading playoff hopes.
In that six-game losing streak, the Steel have been outscored 34-6 and been outshot 286-172.
But despite those statistics, Steel coach Zach Stepan, who is coaching the youngest team in the West Division of the NA3HL, has seen signs of progress mixed in.
“I struggled with our game on Friday (a home 6-1 loss to Granite City) because it looked like we had lost a little bit of our compete factor,” Stepan said Monday at practice. “But Sunday (a 4-1 loss on the road to Granite City) we got it back. That is the hardest thing to manage when you are struggling with a young team. You need to find ways to keep them motivated. And if you watched that game (Sunday) knows that we worked hard.”
Stepan knows that fans look at the 4-1 score and those who watched the game knows that his team played hard.
“We had six or seen guys who needed ice after the game from blocking shots,” he said. “They worked for each other. We did have a goal called off that could have made it a 3-2 game and could have completely changed the game around. Their fourth goal was on a 2-on-0 breakaway but we had the puck in their zone for a two-minute span before they got their goal. Those are things that you may not see if you do not watch the game.”
Stepan said that having a young team is a part of Junior Hockey is deciding when you are going to go into a rebuilding phase.
“And we have gone into that phase,” he said. “That is the part of Junior Hockey is that you need to know when you are going into that rebuilding phase. We have a lot of young guys playing a lot of minutes and it is good for our guys to develop at this level.”
Stepan said that he has between seven or eight players with 2002 birth dates and he also has a player with a 2003 birth date.
“Two of our three goalies are 2001 birth dates. We have a lot of possible returners for next season but we are focusing on developing the younger players.”
Stepan said that non-hockey people do not realize that you have to go through these rebuilding phases.
“We were good last year but we lost a lot of horses from that team.”
When asked about the differential between the shots on goal, Stepan said that his team needs to shoot the puck a lot more.
“We are working on getting pucks to the net more and not pass up shots,” Stepan said. “We try and keep teams to the outside because there is a lot of skill in our division right now.”
The Steel return to the New Ulm Civic Center at 2 p.m. Sunday as they host the North Iowa Bulls.