Chicago Steel sets franchise record during last month's NHL draft
Most parents know the phrase, "You're only as happy as your least happy child."
And although Ryan Hardy doesn't have any biological children, he can definitely relate.
Hardy -- the 34-year-old general manager of the Chicago Steel hockey team -- watched with great pride last month when five of his players were taken in the NHL draft. Three others with ties to the Steel also were selected, making the 2020 draft the most prolific in franchise history.
Still, Hardy had mixed emotions because -- like any good parent -- he was there for those kids whose dreams were crushed.
"It was a very weird feeling after the second day," said Hardy, who watched Brendan Brisson go 28th overall to Vegas and Sam Colangelo go to Anaheim early in the second round. "There was so much excitement.
"But you also carry the weight of the dreams of all the kids. For the ones whose names came up on lists and there was a chance they'd get drafted, you're a little heartbroken for them.
"But we had great conversations with that group. ... They took a night to lick their wounds and were back to work the next day."
The Steel, which is part of the United States Hockey League, enjoyed a record-breaking season in 2019-20 where they won a franchise-record 41 games and put together a pair of 13-game winning streaks. They had an excellent chance to claim their second Clark Cup, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to shut down in March.
Brisson was named rookie of the year on the strength of a 24-goal, 35-assist campaign. Colangelo scored 18 times and had 22 assists in 45 games and was named to the all-rookie team.
Brisson grew up idolizing Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane, which should come as no surprise seeing as how Brisson's father, Pat, is Kane's agent.
"Watching what he does with the puck, it's just mesmerizing," Brisson said last season. "You want to do the things he's doing on the ice. And he's come to the house a couple times. Just the way he holds himself away from the ice is really cool to see."
Brisson, 19, will play collegiately at Michigan, while Colangelo, 18, will play at Northeastern.
Hardy believes both could be top-six forwards within a few years.
"They both have some really high-end potential, should they continue on the trajectory that they're on and continue to have hockey be a priority," said Hardy, who spent two seasons scouting amateur prospects across North America for the Boston Bruins before joining the Steel in 2018. "A lot of times we get so excited about the draft, but the players that (are taken) determine whether they make it in the years following the draft.
"They're two good guys. They love hockey. They have a real passion for their development, and I expect them to go to college for a couple years at least and be very successful."
The next two players taken with ties to the Steel were defenseman Ian Moore and forward Sean Farrell. Moore was drafted by Anaheim in the third round, while Farrell -- who led the USHL in assists last season -- was chosen by Montreal in the fourth round.
The Nashville Predators took two Steel players -- defenseman Luke Reid in the sixth round and forward Gunnarwolfe Fountaine in the seventh.
Moore and Farrell both will play with the Steel this season. Farrell was supposed to play for Harvard but is returning due to the ECAC canceling its season.
"Obviously the virus has impacted so many things, but in this instance it's a benefit for us," Hardy said.
The Steel, which plays in Geneva, was to open the season with a pair of home games against Youngstown on Friday and Sunday, but those games were postponed until December and April. For now, fans are not allowed at Fox Valley Ice Arena, although Hardy hopes that changes at some point.
"I know for our kids, when there's fans in the building and they can feel the passion from them, it certainly elevates their game," Hardy said. "We want to be cognizant of the recommendations and the health of everybody. So when the state tells us we can allow fans we will welcome them with open arms."
What is the USHL?The Chicago Steel is a member of the United States Hockey League. It is the top junior league sanctioned by USA Hockey.
Elite players have many options when deciding where to play, with some (like Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane and Connor McDavid) opting for the Ontario Hockey League and others (like Kirby Dach, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith) opting for the Western Hockey League.
The allure of the USHL is that -- unlike those leagues -- kids don't lose their amateur status, which allows them to play in college.
Players live with Billet (or adoptive) families and often take online classes to attend high school.
The Steel plays a 62-game schedule and plays away games in places like Cedar Rapids, Green Bay, Madison, Sioux Falls, Lincoln, Omaha and as far away as Kearney, Neb. The team's home games are at Fox Valley Ice Arena in Geneva.
-- John Dietz