New NAHL Chippewa Steel, major effects on Chippewa Valley hockey

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CHIPPEWA FALLS, Wis. (WEAU) -- A new junior league hockey team is coming to the Chippewa Valley, but what impact will it have on the area? SportScene 13’s Neil Hebert has the details.

The Chippewa Valley hasn’t had anything like it before: an NAHL (North American Hockey League) team. The Chippewa Steel will be moving into the Chippewa Area Ice Arena this fall. The NAHL is for players between the ages of 16 and 21. A lot of them go on to play collegiately or go professional. That caliber talent could bring a lot to the Chippewa Valley.

“We’re looking at 40-plus years that this has been the rink in Chippewa,” Scott Sikkink, a board member on the Chippewa Youth Hockey Association, said about the Chippewa Area Ice Arena on the north side of Chippewa Falls. It’s seen its fair share of hockey, but nothing to this stature.

“It’s going to give Chippewa a little more of a chip in the game. It’ll get more people up here,” Sikkink said of the Steel coming to the Chippewa Valley.

“It’s going to be over $1 million that’s going to be coming to the Chippewa Falls economy,” Trevor Bohland, a member of the CYHA, said.

That’s an annual estimate by Bohland, but if it comes anywhere near that number, the community has something to be excited about.

“It’s definitely going to be a big buzz,” Sikkink said. “The team said they're going to be involved in community things that other teams have done in the past: being involved in your association, making sure that there’s a name and a face that goes along with the player and it’s not just someone that’s here for business and then gone. They’re actually invested in the community.”

Community investment could equate to more hockey interest.

“It’s going to do great things for our kids in our communities,” Bohland said. “To see those NA(HL) kids out there playing for the Chippewa Steel, to be able to see the quality of hockey that those individuals and the caliber they’re at, it’s really something for those kids to aspire to be.”

“We want to engrain ourselves into the community,” Al Rooney, the new head coach of the Steel, said. “I plan on being available to youth hockey and not only running clinics, but volunteering my time to get out with some of the local programs and not only work the players but the coaches.”

And to top it off, it’s the perfect time for the Steel to come to town; the north rink in the arena is getting a facelift for the 1st time.

“The original boards, which were made in 1972, are being replaced,” Bohland said of one part of the renovations happening this summer inside the arena.

Just over $1 million is going toward the boards and glass, a new ceiling, improved locker rooms, among other things.

“It’s just a very exciting time for hockey in Chippewa. Hockey in our area in general is just growing tremendously and it’s phenomenal to watch,” Sikkink said.

After speaking with Coach Rooney and owner, Bryant Steel, they both say they have a lot of work to do in a short period of time, but the team will be ready to compete at a high level when the season starts.

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