GENEVA – If 95 percent of the Chicago Steel's inaugural USHL season in Geneva has elapsed and three games still are remaining, how many games are there in a season?
To be sure, many of the distinguished guests at Friday's Teacher Appreciation Night game against Muskegon (Michigan) at Fox Valley Ice Arena could arrive at the answer. Steel forward Alex Frye, a South Elgin student from Michigan, might also tell you it's "60" if he weren't so contemplative.
"I mean, I don't want the season to be over, but it looks like it's getting to the end," Frye said. "The boys will still be together for a little longer, stay in touch after the season, as well."
The Steel relocated from Bensenville in the summer of 2015 and were just days removed from finalizing their front office staff at Fox Valley Ice Arena when they opened the regular season with a 5-1 victory against the Team USA national team development program on Sept. 26.
A flurry of midseason roster moves followed a handful of fall transactions. The Steel ultimately fell out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but the locker room hardly lost favor with one another, especially the core group that has been together throughout the season.
"We all enjoy it," defenseman Matt Kiersted said. "We're grateful for the facilities that we have. We have the lounge with coaches and ping pong and TV. Guys will stay for a couple hours after practice and hang out and talk. Were very grateful."
Kiersted and Frye are among the six Steel players attending Fox Valley high schools this school year, balancing academics with playing in the lone Tier 1 junior hockey league in the United States. Max Zimmer graduated from Wheaton North early.
As part of tonight's festivities, seven educators from Geneva School District 304 will participate in a simultaneous, ceremonial puck drop before the game begins at 7:30 p.m.
Jake Nielsen, of Wisconsin, and fellow forward Austen Long, a Minnesotan, are Geneva seniors. Nielsen has grown especially fond of his physical education teacher, Tom Chernich, who also coaches Geneva wrestling.
"I love Chernich," Nielsen said. "He's a good guy."
Homecomings: Muskegon defenseman Graham Lillibridge attended Geneva High school as a freshman and sophomore before signing a tender with the Lumberjacks this season. Friday will mark his third game before friends and family at Fox Valley Ice Arena. He attends Mona Shores High School in Norton Shores, Michigan, and stays with a billet family.
Fellow defenseman Grant Gabriele played 32 games with the Steel this season – and six with Omaha before that – before joining the Lumberjacks in his second trade of 2015-16.
"I love the kids in Chicago. I talk to them all the time," Gabriele said. "I had a lot of fun when I was there, so I definitely keep in touch with those guys."