With the season officially cancelled, the USHL recently awarded the Anderson Cup to the Chicago Steel. The Cup goes to the team with the most points and the Steel certainly earned it with a 41-7-1 record that included two 13-game win streaks and dominance over the scoring race: four of the top five producers came from the Steel, with only Dubuque's Ty Jackson cracking the streak. At the time the season was called, the Steel were 15 points clear of Dubuque and Waterloo, who were tied for second.
"We came into the year expecting to be one of the top teams in the league and obviously had a good year," said defenseman and 2021 NHL prospect Owen Power. "The team was dominant."
So how did they do it? Talent, of course, but preparation helped as well. GM Ryan Hardy put together a rigorous program that called for a certain kind of dedicated player, then went out and got those kids. Whether it was through the draft (like Power and 2020 NHL draft prospect Sean Farrell) or trade (2020 draft prospect Brendan Brisson), Hardy gave coach Greg Moore the talent needed. When Moore was hired away by the AHL's Toronto Marlies in December, Brock Sheahan stepped up behind the bench and continued the Steel's successful run.
“It’s just the mindset every day of getting better," Brisson said. "All the resources coming together really makes it easier to succeed as a player and a team. We take it really seriously here.”
Hardy's stint with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program helped. The Chicago GM was the NTDP's director of player personnel for three years, giving him a crash-course in running one of the top producers of NHL talent in the world.
“It helped me in so many ways," Hardy said. "I was able to look at the setup they had there and also analyze the players; why some were successful and some weren’t. A lot of our cultural pieces came from there – there are probably games where we’re not at peak rest, but we’re not going to sacrifice a (gym) lift that would help the players long-term – that’s something we took from them.”
Surrounding his staff and players with experts also helps.
"We contract with a company for mindset resilience development," Hardy said. "And we have an agreement with Darryl Belfry and Adam Nicholas from an on-ice development standpoint, so from a recruiting perspective, it certainly helps.”
Belfry is the skills guru whose clients have included Patrick Kane and John Tavares - he also works with the Maple Leafs during the season now. Nicholas is another top skating and skills coach renowned in the business.
Looking at the 2020 NHL draft, the Steel will be well-represented. Brisson is a potential first-rounder, while Sam Colangelo and Sean Farrell are top-100 prospects in their own rights. Fellow forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, who was passed over last year, will likely be taken too. But the party isn't going to stop next year, as the Steel tendered one of the most exciting young prospects in the world, 2023 NHL draft prospect Adam Fantilli. The Toronto-born center will play at least 55 percent of Chicago's games next year in exchange for the Steel coughing up their first-rounder in the next USHL draft.
With all the talent that has been coming through Chicago in the past couple years and all the preparation that went into making this year's edition a force in the USHL, it's no surprise top-end kids keep picking the Steel.