Chippewa Steel Ready For 1st Playoff Appearance

Updated: Apr. 17, 2023 at 7:30 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The Chippewa Steel are playoff bound for the first time in team history. After a season that featured a team record 31 wins, the Steel will face off with the Wisconsin Windigo in the first round of the NAHL’s Robertson Cup playoffs.

“We want to keep playing,” said Chippewa forward JJ Grainda. “Half the league is done today. So we’re still playing which is awesome.”

It has not been easy going all year for the Steel. During mid-December and January the team lost eight of nine games to fall to last in the Midwest Division. However, the team finished the season strong with eight wins in March and April to book their ticket to the postseason.

“It’s obviously been a rollercoaster of a year up and down, but for sure {the playoffs} was a goal of ours,” said Head Coach Casey Mignone. “Team played really great the last few weeks of the season to try to get it done. So we’re really excited. We’re the youngest team in the league, so we knew that there would be some ups and downs throughout the season.”

The team has a balanced scoring attack led by forwards Sam Rice, Kade Nielsen, and Grainda. The big story of the season, however, has been the stellar play of its two rookie goaltenders Adam Gajan and Carter Wishart. Both goalies recorded save percentages over .900 this season while each allowing less than 3 goals a game. Gajan in particular made headlines with his stellar play backstopping Slovakia at the World Junior Championships in December.

“Kind of the talk of the tournament,” said Mignone. “It was unreal. It was unbelievable experience for us to be able to watch him. People ask, were you surprised? I mean, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit surprised. But just knowing him as a kid and a competitor and his abilities, like not all that surprised he was that outstanding at the tournament.”

Mignone is hoping to ride that same matchup in the postseason, especially against the top-seeded Windigo this weekend.

“We have had recent success in this building against those guys,” said Mignone. “So we’re looking forward to the challenge and it’ll be a great postseason.”

The players, too, are excited for the added pressure of the playoffs.

“I know the intensity and the speed increases and you know, I think it’ll just feel like every other game,” said Grainda. “They’re a good team, they play hard and they’re skilled and, you know, I think we got to get in their face a little bit and get in front of their goalie.”

Eau Claire native and Steel forward Peyton Platter is also excited saying, “Four days until our game. It starts now and we need to be able to lock in and practice and prepare for after the game.”

Players and coaches agree that the massive crowds at the Chippewa Area Ice Arena have helped fuel the team down the stretch.

“Having all the fans there rowdy every night. It gives you a lot more extra jump playing that night,” said Grainda.

“I mean, we feed off of their energy,” added Platter.

“The loyal fanbase that we have, they deserve this. You know, it’s just really exciting for us to deliver that to them,” said Mignone.

They hope the arena will be packed when the series with Wisconsin returns to Chippewa Falls. The Steel will host Game 3 of the best of 5 series April 28th. They will also host a potential Game 4, which is being marketed as ‘wear black’ event for fans of the team. After a season with lots to cheer for, the team hopes that a first ever playoff win will be the next reason for Chippewa Valley hockey fans to ring the bell.