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Steel are able to scratch their way past Dubuque

GENEVA – Several Chicago Steel players skated despondently back to the bench as Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So” blared over the loudspeaker.

Such was life after Dubuque scored 5:12 into Friday’s United States Hockey League game at Fox Valley Ice Arena, but the song carried further meaning for a few team members on “Movember” Night.

The Steel grew mustaches throughout November in a bid to promote awareness for men’s health issues as part of the club’s recent partnership with LivingWell Cancer Research Center in Geneva. Fans voted for their favorite Steel ’staches as part of a fundraiser during the Steel’s 3-1 win, even as a handful of players shrugged off their inability to be contestants.

“I don’t grow too much facial hair,” Steel forward Marc Johnstone, 19, grinned this week.

Johnstone isn’t alone, which means he’s all but immune to teammates’ good-natured ribbing on the matter.

“Everyone’s at different stages. Some people have big beards. Some people don’t have anything, like I have,” he said. “So it’s not bad.”

The Steel (8-9-2-1) feature three players selected in June’s 2015 NHL Entry Draft – goaltender Daniel Vladar (Boston, third round) and defensemen Karlis Cukste and Adam Parsells, respective fifth- and sixth-round picks of San Jose.

For those young men and the rest of their teammates, several of whom are committed to major college programs, the whole prospect of “Movember” might have seemed, well, hairy at first blush.

After all, who’d start sprouting a de facto playoff beard the day after Halloween?

Although this promotion didn’t exactly qualify on that level, the Steel hardly sounded as if they would beard (yup, it’s also a verb) something similar down the line.

“You see some of the guys – it’s funny to see some of the guys with it on their face,” said team captain Marcel Godbout, a center who won the vote. “We know it’s all for a good cause. The money’s going toward a good thing, so we enjoy it. We like to support it any way we can.”

Dubuque (11-6-1) outshot the Steel, 33-18, but struggled to convert after persistently challenging Vladar, who stopped 32 of 33 shots and was named the game’s first star.

Capitalizing on what Steel coach Dan Muse called a “next shift” mentality, Tanner Lacynski responded with the equalizer just 2:03 after Dubuque’s lone goal.

“That makes it easier for me that we scored,” said Vladar, an 18-year-old from the Czech Republic who had been out because of injury. “It was 1-1, and we were so much better right after.”

Defenseman Billy Sweezey’s goal 9:05 into the second period held up as the game-winner, his first in the USHL. Sweezey was self-deprecating about converting Max Zimmer’s crisp pass from the boards to the high slot, saying it erased a “legitimate fear” he never would contribute a goal.

The Steel and Fighting Saints will meet at 7:05 p.m. today at Mystique Ice Center in Dubuque, the first of three consecutive road games for the Steel, who relocated from Bensenville entering the season.

Friday’s victory gave the Steel four victories in seven November home games. Two of the losses came in overtime.

“Definitely, everyone has adjusted,” said defenseman Charlie Raith, a healthy scratch from Friday’s lineup. “We kind of had a slow start early. Maybe that had something to do with it, that guys weren’t used to the competitiveness.”

He meant of the USHL, not the heat of mustache-growing contests.

Then again, that endeavor figures to pay dividends even for the Steel’s baby faces.

“Getting to know each other as a team better and to know you really like spending time, that helps with the adjustment to the league,” Raith said.

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