Sunday, February 5, 2017
Ex Viper Steel Stellar With Huntsville:
Steel stellar with Huntsville
by Kevin Mitchell - Vernon Morning Star
Feb 4, 2017
Average salary in the Southern Professional League: $10,000. Longest bus trip for the Huntsville Havoc in Alabama: nine hours to Peoria in Illinois.
Hardly a glamorous life, but Vernon’s Tyler Steel is loving life as a rookie net detective in minor pro hockey.
The Havoc led the 10-team SPHL at 24-7-1, six points clear of the Macon Mayhem and seven in front of the Mississippi RiverKings, going into weekend play.
The Havoc are tops in attendance, averaging 4,529 fans to the Von Braun Center. Ticket prices range from $11 to $19. Huntsville is the fourth largest city in Alabama, with a population of 180,000.
“We get 6,000 to our Saturday night games,” said Steel, who is 11-3 with two shutouts, a stellar 2.25 GAA and eye-popping .934 save percentage, third best in the league.
“The team has been around for 13 or 14 years and we set a record for attendance last year. They know a lot about hockey here even though football is No. 1.
“We do lots of community stuff, We help minor hockey; four or five guys will go over and help with the learn to skate programs. We also do hospital visits. Right now, we have a little guy who is our honourary captain. Jacob Brown is 12 and he’s battling cancer (leukemia) and can’t play hockey. He’s at all our games and is our seventh man on the ice in warm-up.”
Steel, who turns 24 in a few weeks, spent one year with the Junior B Sicamous Eagles and three seasons with the BCHL Merritt Centennials before earning a scholarship with the Brown University Bears of the NCAA, where he played three years. He is working on a degree in history online through Brown (a Rhode Island school).
The 6-foot-2, 187-pounder was a first all-star teamer with the Cents in the 2012-13 season. He was Merritt’s MVP the same year and took the unsung hero honour in 2011-12.
He and Adam Courchaine of Ottawa evenly split games with the Havoc.
“We’ve both played very well,” said Steel. “Probably our speed and our hard work are our team strengths. We can hem teams in for a while with our speed. We have a quick transition.”
Much of the Huntsville roster is Canadian with Tyler French of Kelowna and Scott Fellnermayr of West Kelowna well known by Steel.
“We have lots of college players and our longest-serving player has been here six years. We bus everywhere but we have nice sleepers. I’ll do homework for a few hours and then go to sleep when we’re travelling overnight. We’re definitely treated really well.
“There are three guys to an apartment and they pay our rent so we can save half of our paycheques. The Booster Club is really good to us and will come once or twice a month and bring us groceries. With three of us, you can imagine how far those go though. We get lots of deal around town and we get free golf at three courses.”
Steel says the more experienced shooters wisely try and pick corners rather than just blast pucks on net.
“Pro is just kind of a different style than college, where it’s run and gun. Pro is more about systems and taking advantage of opportunities. It’s definitely more physical. I feel like I’m getting better. Our assistant coach (Jesse Kallechy) used to be a goalie so it’s nice to hear his feedback and go over video with him.”
Steel has fond memories of the Coca-Cola Pee Wee Classic which opens Thursday morning at Civic Arena. He and Conor Barrie backstopped the Watkin Motors Mustangs to gold in the 2006 tournament.
“I remember everybody making such a big deal out of a Pee Wee tournament,” he laughed. “It was pretty cool because we built a float and went in the (Winter Carnival) parade and it was pretty special we won the tournament.”
Vernon stopped Fairbanks, Alaska 6-5 in double overtime that year under head coach Ken Dahlen. Colton Sparrow (Vernon Vipers), Zac McPhee (Kootenay Ice), Brady Brassart (Calgary Hitmen) and Colton Dahlen (Nanaimo Clippers) were on the Mustangs.