For most readers, this will probably bring a few questions to mind immediately:
- Chicago Steel? What?
- The USHL? What?
- Why are you covering them on Runs On Duncan? I thought this was a Blackhawks site!
The last question is probably the easiest one to answer, so I’ll tackle it first. Ever since I started this site all the way back in February, I’ve wanted to expand its focus a bit. There’s a world of hockey in Chicago beyond the Blackhawks, and I hope that, by presenting it to you through this site, you might be curious to go check these teams out and lend them your support.
And, if not, feel free to skip over these posts. Honey Badger don’t care.
So what in the world is a USHL, and why does the Chicago Steel exist? Come learn after the jump!
Before I can properly introduce you to the Chicago Steel, you should know what the USHL is.
The United States Hockey League (or USHL, natch) is the top junior league (Tier I) in the United States. Junior leagues are made up of hockey players between 16 and 20 years old.
Previously, we had a post about the Canadian Hockey League and the three leagues that make it up: The Western Hockey League (WHL), Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The USHL, then, is a separate but equivalent league. However, it’s an amateur league (unlike the CHL, which is considered a pro league), which makes it ideal for hockey players who want to go the NCAA route. Between 80 and 90 percent of players in the USHL play hockey in the NCAA, and the USHL website boasts about its 284 college commitments.
Currently, there are 164 active USHL alumni in the NHL/AHL. These include Chicago Blackhawk Patrick Sharp (who played for the now-defunct Thunder Bay Flyers), future Blackhawk Jimmy Hayes (Lincoln Stars), and former Blackhawk Adam Burish (Green Bay Gamblers). For the complete history of the USHL, check it out here.
The league is made up of 16 teams, centered in the Midwest and split into two conferences.
|Eastern Conference||Western Conference|
|Cedar Rapids RoughRiders||Cedar Rapids, IA||Des Moines Buccaneers||Urbandale, IA|
|Chicago Steel||Bensenville, IL||Dubuque Fighting Saints||Dubuque, IA|
|Green Bay Gamblers||Green Bay, WI||Fargo Force||Fargo, ND|
|Indiana Ice||Indianapolis, IN||Lincoln Stars||Lincoln, NE|
|Muskegon Lumberjacks||Muskegon, MI||Omaha Lancers||Omaha, NE|
|USA Hockey NTDP||Ann Arbor, MI||Sioux City Musketeers||Sioux City, IA|
|Waterloo Black Hawks||Waterloo, IA||Sioux Falls Stampede||Sioux Falls, SD|
|Youngstown Phantoms||Youngstown, OH||Tri-City Storm||Kearney, NE|
The Chicago Steel was founded as the Fargo-Moorehead Ice Sharks in 1996 before it relocated to Bensenville and became the Steel in 2000. For the most part, the team has been middling except for one shining moment in the 2003-04 season, where they won the East Division by one point. However, they would fall to the Waterloo Black Hawks, who would go on to win the Clark Cup (given to the USHL playoff championship team) that year.
Last year was, uh… how do I put this delicately?
Oh, forget it — the Steel sucked last year, as their roster was absolutely wrecked by injuries. This led to the dismissal of coach Jon Waibel on February 24, 2011, who had coached the team to a dismal 9-27-7 record at that point in the season.
Yes. You read that right. Nine wins. Twenty-seven losses.
Fortunately for the Steel, you can’t really get much worse than that. So, with new coach Scott McConnell, the team looks to start a new chapter. The Steel used their number-one overall USHL draft pick to nab Brian Christie, who ripped up the NAHL for the Topeka RoadRunners last year, scoring 57 points in 57 games and leading the league with a plus-38 rating.
Tomorrow, the team officially begins practicing in preparation for their first preseason game on September 10 against the Indiana Ice, which will take place at the Arctic Ice Arena in Orland Park, IL at 6pm. All preseason games are free, so if you’re in the area, stop by and check out Chicago’s Tier 1 junior league team.