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Steel finalize playoff roster

With the foundation in place following the roster freeze deadline, the St. Albert Steel are building towards the playoffs one game at a time.

With the foundation in place following the roster freeze deadline, the St. Albert Steel are building towards the playoffs one game at a time.

After Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss in Olds, the Steel (18-22-1-4) are ranked sixth out of eight teams in the north with 15 games remaining and were 10 points back of the fifth-place Bonnyville Pontiacs (24-20-2-1) with two games in hand.

Offensively the Steel scored the fifth most goals at 165 but defensively had given up a league-high 202.

"We want to get prepared and peaking going into playoffs," centre Mike Giese said at Wednesday's practice. "We want to be playing our best hockey when playoff time comes."

The Steel took a positive step forward in that direction with three out of a possible six points in three games in three days against south division teams.

"We wanted at least four points out of the weekend but coming out with three is definitely all right," Giese said of the 6-5 win in Canmore, 5-3 loss in Okotoks and the OT decision against Olds. "There were parts of every game that we played well in and parts of every game where we didn't play so great. I don't think there was one game in particular that we played that much better than the rest of the games that weekend."

Veterans traded

Friday's home tilt against the Alberta Junior Hockey League champion Grande Prairie Storm was the Steel's first game after assistant captain Nick Scott, 19, a third-year Steel player and the team's highest scoring defenceman (2-22-24 in 45 games), was traded to the Drumheller Dragons for 17-year-old forward Justin Morello (13-17-30 in 33 games in 2009/10), a second-year AJHL player with 51 career points in 76 games with Drumheller.

Earlier this month the Steel dealt another original player, local forward Rob Zandbeek (12-23-35 and 252 PIM in 127 games) to the Woodstock Slammers of the Maritime Junior A Hockey League for future considerations, either a player or cash.

"There is a little bit of relief now. Everyone can get settled in. No one is getting moved and no one is coming in," said Giese, who was sent to the Drayton Valley Thunder last June in a packaged deal with Zandbeek but both players were later reacquired by the Steel prior to training camp.

The Steel's 21-man roster features five players in their last AJHL season. Eight players also remain from last year's sixth-place, 29-win showing and opening playoff round loss. The goaltending tandem of Chad Keeting (2-1-1, 5.48 GAA) and rookie Chris Sharkey (6-7-1, 4.27 GAA) didn't even start the season with the team.

"It's definitely nice that this is the group we have and we're moving forward with," said Giese.

He joins all-time Steel scoring leader Bryce Williamson, captain Ryan Edens and St. Albert product Alex Perkins as the only players left from the Steel's 2007/08 debut in St. Albert as the transplanted Fort Saskatchewan Traders.

"It's pretty weird because I think we had 12 rookies our first year coming in to St. Albert so it's definitely different just having the four of us left," said Giese, who broke into the AJHL with the Steel after playing midget AAA with the KC Pats.

Scoring drought

Among several Steel highlights last weekend was Giese's first goal of the season to mercifully end a 40-game scoring slump.

"It was definitely a huge relief to get the monkey off my back. I've had a bit of a tough season offensively so far so it was nice to get that first one," said Giese, who pulled the trigger in Okotoks in period three to cut the deficit to 5-2 after trailing 4-0 after 40 minutes. "Dave [Carr] drove the puck wide and chipped it down into the corner and Phil [Gervais] picked it up and threw it out front. I was kind of Johnny-on-the-spot and slammed it home."

Giese, 19, caught lightning in a bottle the next day in Olds with an unassisted marker at 3:53 of period two to put the Steel ahead 2-1.

"The D-man went to make a play and he kind of fanned on the pass and I just picked it up. I was in all alone so I just had to bear down and bury it."

Giese's third point in three games was also the eighth of the season for the five-foot-five agitator. In 147 AJHL games his stats included 16 goals, 21 assists and 238 PIM with the Steel.

"I've never really been much of an offensive player but I've definitely had a little more trouble putting the puck into the net this year than in the past," said Giese, who was pointless in 21 games before picking up an assist in Canmore. "I'm not stressing about it too much, I just focus on playing my game and being sound defensively."

The second weekend in a row of three straight games for the Steel started Friday against the Storm (score unavailable at press time). The second-place Storm (31-11-1-2) and the third-place Fort McMurray Oil Barons (29-14-1-2) are potential first-round playoff opponents for the Steel.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. the Steel visit the last-place Thunder (11-30-2-3) and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. they host Bonnyville.

"Definitely it's pretty tiring playing three in three but we get used to it. It's a long season and sometimes you've got to have those busy weekends," Giese said. "We want to go in prepared and hopefully we can get two points out of each game."

ICE CHIPS: Williamson led all Steel scorers last weekend with seven points, including his milestone 100th and 101st AJHL goals in period three against Okotoks. The 20-year-old right-winger broke into the AJHL with the Traders, the 2007 AJHL finalists, and is on his way to his third Steel scoring title. His 79 points in 45 games is third best in the AJHL scoring race. The Steel's franchise leader in games played (164), goals (94), assists (116), points (210), power play goals (42) and game winners (12) was pointless only seven times this season while piling up 33 goals and 46 assists.

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