GENEVA – The journey took 17 years, seven different head coaches, three different ownership groups and two different relocations for the Chicago Steel to finally get it right.
On May 23 in Sioux City, Iowa, the Steel shocked the U.S. Hockey League and the Sioux City Musketeers and their 6,309 screaming fans at the Tyson Events Center. The Steel defeated Sioux City, 2-1, in overtime to win their first Clark Cup as champions of the USHL.
If the Musketeers had won, there might have been a parade and rally in Sioux City. For the Steel, it was all about Aurelio’s Pizza in Geneva, where the team celebrated the win May 24.
Only one member of the Steel front office staff was around the previous time the Steel made the playoffs some 10 years ago. Katie Sack, a promotions coordinator with the team, last saw the Steel make the playoffs against Waterloo (Iowa) in the 2007-08 season. The remainder of the Steel staff have been with the club for just two seasons, on average.
This season, the Steel established an all-time record for most wins in a regular season with 38.
To say the Steel were battle-tested during the playoffs would not be a stretch. To go along with their 3-2 playoff series win against Youngstown (Ohio) in the USHL Eastern Conference semifinals and a 3-1 series win against the Dubuque (Iowa) Fighting Saints in the USHL East Finals, the Steel went the full five games, including overtime twice, against Sioux City, the USHL regular-season champion and winners of the Western Conference.
“I think we all have a deep appreciation for what happened,” Steel President Dan Lehv said. “From the time we got off the ice [after we lost] in Geneva after Game 4 up until the time the goal was scored in OT, it is a true testament to our coaching staff. No one wanted to make that bus ride [back] to Sioux City.”
Once Game 5 got started, the Steel had to withstand an opening period where they were outshot 18-3 and fell behind 1-0 after 20 minutes. The second period found forward Eduards Tralmaks tying the game at 1-1.
That score stood until just past the midway point of the first overtime session where forward Tyler Gratton scored off a wrist shot in the slot area to seal the 2-1 win.
“For us after Game 4, it was all about turning the page,” said Steel coach Dan Muse, who won an NCAA Division I national championship with Yale in 2013. “We never got into long losing streaks this year. When we would have a bad game it was all about turning the page, putting it out of our minds and moving onto the next game. That was a key for this club, not to dwell on losses.”
While the Steel roster will turn over a bit in the offseason (one would be hard-pressed to find a player who is not signed to play college hockey in the fall), the names of defenseman Adam Karashik, who will play college hockey at the University of Connecticut, and forward Johnny Walker, who will play at Arizona State, will be among those remembered for helping the team win its first title.
“It is kind of sad we won’t be together as a group anymore,” Karashik said. “We have been together as a unit since last August. But we went out as champions.”