The Chicago Steel has combined a veteran defensive corps with a young, talented forward group to get off to the strongest start in the United States Hockey League season. Over the weekend, Greg Moore was named head coach of the Toronto Marlies, American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Despite losing their head coach mid-season, Chicago has gone 8-2-0-0 in their last 10 games to improve to 15-4-1. The Steel lead the USHL in goals scored with 98, making them one of only two teams to eclipse 90 goals in the first 20 game this season.
Prior to accepting the opportunity in Toronto, Moore sat down with USA Hockey to discuss his team. Despite the offensive number, he was quick to point out that it is the solid base that has allowed the new forwards to skate freely.
“The five returning defensemen has been a real good foundation for us on the back end,” Moore said.
That group was part of a team that advanced to the Clark Cup Final last season.
They are supplemented up front by players such as newcomer Sean Farrell, the USHL scoring leader, and holdover Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, the league’s reigning Forward of the Week.
Farrell has nine goals and 21 assists in 20 games.
“He’s an all-around player, which has allowed him to have the production that he has had,” Moore said. “I think a lot of skill players don’t have the mindset of defending or doing the hard stuff to help the team have win games. What they’re not understanding is how getting the puck back quickly and/or defending hard allows them to get on offense quickly.
“Sean understands that and, that to be a complete player, he needs to make his teammates better."
The 18-year-old from Hopkinton, Mass., is a Harvard University commit and spent the past two seasons with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program where he scored 78 points in 125 games.
“He can put the puck in the net; he can distribute it,” Moore added. “He understands the game every well. He does core things very well and he is able to apply what he learns quickly.”
Fontaine, one of five Steel forwards placed inside the top seven in league scoring, had 20 goals and 23 assists last season. Recently named to the U.S. Junior Select Team for the World Junior A Challenge, the 19-year-old Northeastern University recruit from East Greenwich, R.I., has 12 goals and 10 assists.
Fontaine and Uula Ruikka, the USHL Defenseman of the Week, each had five points and went plus-six while the team was scoring 18 goals in two wins prior to Thanksgiving.
Mathieu De St. Phalle is tied for second in USHL scoring with 25 points and Brendan Brisson, who preceded Fontaine as Forward of the Week, leads all rookies in scoring with 22 points in 20 games.
Farrell and Moore's previous experience give the team a strong connection to the U.S. National Team Development Program.
Moore was coaching in his second season at Chicago after serving as an NTDP assistant. Having an impact in the community as well as on the ice, he said, is one of the goals he brought with him from his time in Plymouth, Mich.
“I think one really important item they do well there is culture, breeding a mindset and creating an environment for the kids to kind of take ownership of what they’re doing,” Moore said. “It’s about developing the person first and the athlete second.”
That focus on development of has only made a veteran defensive core all the more dangerous, in addition to making Moore a valuable asset to developing future NHL stars in the AHL.
Owen Power leads the group in scoring at a point-per-game pace, while Jack Babbage, from New York, leads the team in plus-minus. Babbage spent the last two seasons with the Sioux City Musketeers logging 115 USHL games prior to the season's start.
Jimmy Dowd, a Penn State commit from Pt. Pleasant, N.J., and John Spetz, University of Connecticut commit from Oak Ridge, N.J., join Luke Reid as the other returnees from last year.
Story from Red Line Editorial