The Chicago Steel gave its fans a chance to see some playoff hockey this weekend.
Steel players however were playing for something even more as they donated the proceeds from game-worn jerseys to the families of the players of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League Humboldt Broncos Junior hockey team who passed away in a bus crash near Armley, Saskatchewan on April 6.
While it may have been about hockey this week for the Steel, it was about much more than that.
“We did play a dangerous team this weekend in Central Illinois,” Steel coach Ryan Cruthers said. “They were a team who had nothing to play for other than just padding their stats. We were a team who were still trying to make the playoffs. But what happened up in Canada was not lost on our guys. We talked about it just after it did take place and articles and other such things relating to that events are all over our locker room.”
The Steel trailed 4-3 entering the third period of Friday's game, but rallied with four goals over the final 19 minutes for a 7-5 win. The Steel then won its final regular season game 2-1 in a shootout over Central Illinois to finish at 28-25-2-5 with 63 points.
The pair of victories gave the club the sixth and final playoff spot in the USHL Eastern Conference.
The Steel advance to face the third-seed Muskegon Lumberjacks up in Michigan in a best-of-three series this week. Should the Steel win the series, it would face the top seed USA National Development team in a best-of-five.
“What happened up in Canada hit a lot of guys hard on our staff,” Cruthers said. “Those guys in that locker room know how lucky they are to be able to play this game at this level. A lot of guys don’t ever get that chance to do what we do. Every day we get up to either play of coach this game is a gift. Tomorrow is promised to no one.”
Recent Steel pick-up Travis Treloar knew what was at stake for the Steel coming into the weekend.
But he also knew there was a bigger picture.
“It was very sad for me when I heard about it,” Treloar said. “I along with my teammates just wanted to show some respect for what happened up there by playing as hard as we could this weekend. I don’t think any of us expected something like that to take place.”
For Steel defenseman and Geneva native Graham Lillibridge, the Friday night contest was about several things.
“For me I knew it was going to be my last regular season home game,” he said. “But as a team, I just wanted to do the best I could to try to get us into the playoffs. I grew up playing in this rink, so this place is special tome. I do not want this season to end yet. When that event happened to those 16 Humboldt hockey players it was very tragic. The weekend that it happened we were on the bus coming home from a game. So, something like that could have happened to us. It is hard to talk about it because those players led the same lives as us where you spend so many hours on a bus traveling. That could have been us.”