Chicago Steel hockey team moving to Kane County
It's been more than a decade since Kane County was home to a junior level hockey team. But starting next month, the Fox Valley Ice Arena will be the home ice for the Chicago Steel, creating a one-two punch of sub-pro sports action at the Geneva-based Kane County Forest Preserve District campus on Fabyan Parkway.
The Steel are a Tier 1 Junior hockey team that has played all its games in Bensenville, until now. The team has not made the United States Hockey League playoffs since the 2007-08 season. The move to Kane County is part of a facelift for the entire organization.
The team has a new owner -- Glenview Capital Management CEO and Founder Larry Robbins. A new general manager, president of hockey operations and two new vice presidents of hockey operations will also join the team. The most visible personnel change will be the addition of Dan Muse as the head coach. Muse spent the past six seasons as the associate head coach for Yale University's hockey team.
Muse will try to improve upon the Steel's 30-27-3 record last season. That roster featured goalie Daniel Vlader, who was recently drafted by the NHL's Boston Bruins, and Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Dennis Gilbert. Nick Olczyk, son of Blackhawks' TV analyst Eddie Olczyk, is still on the team.
The Fox Valley Ice Arena hasn't served as the home ice for a junior hockey team since the North American Hockey League's Chicago Freeze played its final game there in 2003. The area is located next to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark, which the forest preserve district leases to the Kane County Cougars, a minor league affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Having a two-pronged attraction to the campus, which is also targeted for a national-level cross-country track, excited forest preserve commissioners Friday.
"It's a big deal," Commissioner Becky Gillam said. "The team is a step up toward the pros for the players. And having a consistent clientele will make the whole ice arena facility more viable."
Commissioner John Hoscheit said the ice area was constructed with the idea of hosting a hockey team with a regular fan base. The facilities have been awaiting a large audience for some time, he said.
"If this helps boost the revenues that come in, that's great," Hoscheit said.
The Steel signed a three-year deal with two one-year extension operations with the company that manages the ice rink for the forest preserve district. It's also inking a separate agreement with the forest preserve district to ensure the contract remains in place no matter what the forest preserve district decides to do with the management company in the next five years. The team will also kick in some money to revamp the locker rooms.
Prospective new fans of the Steel can get a flavor of the team later this month when it represents the United States Hockey League in the 2015 Junior Club World Cup in Russia. The tournament runs Aug. 24 to 30. The Steel's USHL season begins at the end of September.