Column: Ostapenko to debut with Steel; Breakdown ranks winter teams

Over this past summer, New Ulm Steel head coach and General Manager Alex North had been in contact with 17-year-old forward Vladislav Ostapenko from Omsk, Russia, about playing Junior Hockey for the Steel.

Monday morning, he became a member of the Steel.

“We were talking with him over the summer, but there were a lot of visa issues,” North said. “But we were able to get that figured out and now we are good to go.

“His advisor started talking to us about coming over to play over here, and we were able to work through his advisor who is from Minnesota but is coaching hockey in England. We had a lot of communication back and forth. This is Vladislav’s first trip to the United States and talking to him (Monday) morning, he seems pretty excited to be here. We are doing some goggle translating conversation now. It will be a little figuring it out on both ends. His English is very limited. We watched him play on film and he seems like a very, very skilled player.”

Steel fans in New Ulm will have to wait until Friday, Dec. 2, to see Ostapenko play at home. The Steel are at Granite City Wednesday and then at Alexandria next Saturday.

STEEL PARENT SEES SON PLAY: One of the hardest things for a parent of a Junior Hockey player sometimes is the distances.

For Denise Souza, the mother of New Um Steel player Connor Souza, it did not matter.

Souza came in from Calabasas, California, Saturday night to watch her son play for the Steel.

“This is his second year in Junior (Hockey) and I come to games here a lot even though we live in California,” she said. “He actually started in roller hockey in California, but his father was an off-ice official at the Staples Center, and Connor has been going to hockey gams since he was a baby. He wanted to play hockey since he was little — he would put tape on a wall for a goal and hit a ball at it. He started in roller hockey when he was 8, but he also played soccer, football, baseball.”

Souza’s hockey career after playing elite hockey in California progress to where in 2020 he was invited to play in Junior Hockey in Atlanta, Georgia, but that was when COVID happened.

“So he went back and played AAA hockey for the San Jose Sharks. But (because of COVID), we had to play in Nevada and they won the state title,” she said.

Souza said that it is tough with her son gone playing hockey.

“Absolutely,” she said. “I come here twice a month for games. He has been so fortunate to have awesome billet families (he is billeting with Andy and Andrea Budahn in New Ulm) and he keeps in contact with them. But when he comes back, he is more mature and independent. We lost his father 2 years ago to cancer. When he comes back, he seems more mature and responsible.”

Souza said her son wants to play college hockey and get a degree in Physical Therapy.

BREAKDOWN RANKS TEAMS: The Breakdown Sports USA preseason edition of boys and girls basketball and boys and girls hockey is out.

In boys basketball, they have New Ulm High boys ranked 14th in the state in Class AAA and are picked behind Mankato East as the choice in Section 2AAA.

In Class A, Sleepy Eye St.Mary’s is ranked 14th.

Top junior players include Colton Benson and James Osborne of New Ulm High School.

In girls Section 2AAA, New Ulm High School is ranked fourth.

In Class A, Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart is ranked third, with Sleepy Eye Public 12th.

Top girls players include senior Brynn Busse of GFW, along with juniors Daviney Dreckman of New Ulm High School, and Kadence Hesse and Brea Mertz of Sleepy Eye Public.

In boys hockey, New Ulm High School is ranked second behind Mankato East in Section 3A.

The Eagles’ Austin Uecker ranks among the top juniors in the state.

In girls hockey, New Ulm High School is second behind Luverne in Section 3A.

The Eagles’ Brooke Arneson is a top senior player along with junior Afton Hulke.


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