Hockey: Steel has Clark Cup series come to an end

GENEVA – The Chicago Steel saw its second-round Clark Cup playoff series come to an end Friday with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Team USA National Development team in Game 4 at the Fox Valley Ice Arena.

Team USA, which won Game 3 in overtime, won the series 3-1.

"We wanted to get it to a Game 5 back in Plymouth (Mich.)," Steel coach Ryan Cruthers said. "We wanted to just throw pucks at them from everywhere tonight.”

However, Team USA did everything iit could to bury the Steel early on. Team USA forward Erik Middendorf made it 1-0 with 13:27 left in the first period. The visitors extended their lead to 2-0 just over three minutes later when defenseman Drew Helleson made it 2-0 with 2:59 left when he beat Steel goaltender Oskar Autio, who had 32 saves, from in close.

The Steel cut the margin to 2-1 when defenseman Jeremy Bucheler took a feed from forward Jack Dugan from below the Team USA goal line and scored at the 16:57 mark of the middle period.

Steel fans were even more encouraged the series might go the full five games when right winger Jack Dugan scored off a hard wrist shot which was more like a dump in attempt if anything.

As Dugan was skating into the neutral zone just before he reached the red line, he let go the shot which ended up into the Team USA net after USA Cameron Rowe had though he had deflected the shot off his left shoulder. However, Rowe deflected the shot just under the crossbar and into the net.

"I know I had never see anything like that before,” Cruthers said. “We were never out of this game at any time tonight. Nor were we out of any game this entire season.”

Team USA went back in front 3-2 with 5:41 left in the second period on a goal by Trevor Zegras. But the lead didn't last, as the Steel got a power play goal with 13:32 left in regulation time from forward Aaro Vidgrinmaking it 3-3. Team USA scored the game winning goal at the 16:12 mark of the extra session from defenseman Alex Vlasic.

"I had no idea what I was walking into when I got here in January" said Cruthers, who had the interim coach tag removed April 24 and was named permanent coach.

“I do not think anyone understands when you make a coach change at midseason what it can do to a team. But the players bought in right away to what we wanted to do. They made the transition easier for me and my staff right away. I look forward to the draft in May and building this team from the beginning against next season.”