Seated second seed of the Eastern Conference with a record-breaking regular season in the books, the Chicago Steel are gearing up to face their first offseason opponent this weekend on home ice. The team set multiple team and individual records throughout the 62-game regular season stretch, including a franchise record for successive postseason appearances, clinching playoff berth for the third consecutive year. And while this is no doubt an optimal start to what’s hoped to be a strong run, the Steel know they have a long road ahead of them.
Steel captain and defenseman, Matteo Pietroniro, emphasized the benefits of entering the playoffs with a bye week under their belt. “It’s huge,” says Pietroniro. “We had an extra four practices and a few workouts we got to do, which is to our advantage.” Because the team seeded second in their conference, they’ll start their Clark Cup pursuit in the conference semifinals against the fourth-seed Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, who beat Team USA in a best-of-three earlier this week.
An undisputed contributor to Chicago’s regular season was league-leader in points, Nick Abruzzese, who expects to translate his regular season success into postseason gains by focusing on physicality. “The playoffs are definitely going to be more of a physical grind,” says the 19-year-old Harvard commit. “Everyone who plays, they’re going to play hard, they’re going to play physical… As a team, we need to try and match that as best we can.”
Abruzzese secured the league scoring title with 29 goals and 51 assists, tallying a total of 80 points. The key to the forward’s prosperous scoresheet? Confidence. “That was one of the biggest things in my game this year,” says Abruzzese. “If I can just continue to play with confidence and have the belief in myself and my teammates, I think the scoring can continue into the playoffs.”
Team morale is undeniably an important factor to pulling out wins, and a positive group mentality is something the captain speaks critically on. “It’s important that we have the right mindset throughout the playoffs,” Pietroniro says. “Whether we are up a game, down a game, or whatever the situation is. I think it’s important we stay positive as a group.” As shown by the team’s franchise-record 243 total goals this season, the group’s self-acclaimed confidence and positivity has certainly gelled them into a well-oiled machine.
And even with all that going for them, a home ice advantage is not something Chicago is taking for granted. “Having our fans behind us, and having momentum every game with the fans, I think, is going to play a huge role in our playoff run,” says Pietroniro. The team’s 14-game winning streak on home ice in Geneva this season exhibits that the Steel and their home crowd are a force to be reckoned with.
Games one and two of the Eastern Conference Semifinal between the Chicago Steel and Cedar Rapids Roughriders will take place at Fox Valley Ice Arena this Saturday, April 20th and Sunday, April 21st. Stay up-to-date with the Steel and the Clark Cup Playoffs on their chicagosteelhockeyteam.com, as well as our live game coverage on @puckitupblog on Twitter.
Written by: Alyssa O’Brenski