GENEVA, ILLINOIS — A playoff atmosphere was palpable at Fox Valley Ice Arena on Friday night for the first of a back-to-back set between the Eastern Conference’s top two winning percentages, the Chicago Steel (24-4-1-0, 49 pts) and Dubuque Fighting Saints (20-7-1-0, 41 pts). Chicago netminder Victor Ostman earned his first-career shutout while backstopping Chicago’s 2-0 victory, its tenth in a row, tying a franchise record.
Dubuque netminder Erik Portillo, a third-round selection (67th overall) by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2019 NHL Draft, suffered just his third regulation loss of the season.
The opening frame saw both squads fight off multiple opposing power-play scares to maintain a 0-0 tie after the first 20 minutes of action.
The Steel came into the matchup with the top-ranked power-play unit in the USHL, clicking at a 27.9 percent pace (38-for-129) and had two chances with the man advantage early.
A Luke Reid shot rang off the post during the first Steel power play but couldn’t catch the lucky bounce. Following another successful Dubuque penalty kill, the Steel went shorthanded twice over the last seven minutes of the period, including a brief 5-on-3 advantage for Dubuque to close out the period.
After escaping the flurry of Dubuque power plays unscathed, Chicago forward Erik Middendorf played hero of the night with five minutes gone in the second. The Scottsdale, Ariz., native sprung clear on a long outlet pass from Tyler Carpenter and buried his sixth goal of the season through Portillo’s five-hole.
“It felt pretty good,” said Middendorf. “I was working with (Chicago Assistant Coach Mike) Garman all week on how to change up my shot. I didn’t see much net except between his legs. It was nice to squeeze that one past.”
The second period finished with both teams trading chances but each netminder stood his ground. Through two frames, Ostman turned away all 12 shots he faced while Portillo stopped 18 Steel shots, sending the clubs to a 1-0 Chicago edge heading into the final period.
Ostman faced his toughest test in the third, facing 11 shots from Dubuque and denying all 11.
Steel Head Coach Brock Sheahan loved what he saw from the Swedish netminder.
“I thought he was so poised,” said Sheahan. “Usually our power play is clicking, it wasn’t tonight. We had a ton of PK’s and I just thought he (Ostman) controlled pucks. He really controlled the game and I’m really proud of him.”
The Chicago penalty kill finished its perfect night with two timely performances in the waning minutes.
After cancelling an interference penalty with just over five minutes to go, the Steel were whistled for another infraction with exactly two minutes to go. Dubuque called a timeout and pulled Portillo for a 6-on-4 opportunity but Gunnarwolfe Fontaine sealed the contest for the home team. Fontaine chased down a puck at center ice and tucked home the second and final goal of the game.
Ostman’s first shutout couldn’t have come at a better time than against the Fighting Saints, who came into Friday Night’s contest just six points back of Chicago for first place in the league.
“They were fast but I thought we managed them pretty well,” said Ostman. “We just played great defensively and I think we shut them down.”
The Steel registered a perfect 6-for-6 (100%) penalty kill in the win, the team’s 17th victory in their last 18 outings.
The clubs head west to Mystique Community Ice Center to finish the home-and-home set on Sat., Jan. 11 with a puck drop scheduled for 7:05 pm.
The Steel return home to Fox Valley Ice Arena on Jan. 17 & 18 for a celebration of 20 seasons of Steel hockey with a throwback weekend against the Omaha Lancers.
Next Friday’s game is a Year 2000 theme night and next Saturday’s contest includes a Year 2000 Rusty bobblehead doll giveaway for the first 500 fans.
Chicago Steel Upcoming Games:
Sat., Jan. 11 at Dubuque Fighting Saints 7:05 pm
Fri., Jan. 17 vs. Omaha Lancers 7:05 pm (Year 2000 Throwback Night)
Sat., Jan. 18 vs. Omaha Lancers 7:05 pm (Year 2000 Rusty the Mascot Bobblehead Giveaway)
For more information and to purchase Steel tickets, call 855-51-STEEL or visit ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com.