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Hockey: Chicago Steel makes coaching change midseason

It's been a year of twists and turns for the Chicago Steel hockey organization.

In May the Steel won its first Clark Cup championship. The next week it lost its head coach. In June the Steel brought aboard Mark Abalan as coach.

It just took another turn.

The Steel on Jan. 2 announced a multi-year partnership with Darryl Belfry and the consulting firm Belfry Hockey. That decision came with a coaching change.

The Steel announced that it was replacing head coach/general manager Mark Abalan and hiring Ryan Cruthers as interim head coach and assistant general manager. Cruthers was most recently with a Junior A Tier III hockey club in Charlotte, N.C.

Prior to the change, the Steel sat in fourth place in the USHL Eastern Conference just one point out of second place with two games in hand on Eastern Conference-leading Green Bay.

Since the change, the Steel lost two straight games against USHL Western Division leader Fargo (ND) Force.

“We had the opportunity to hire Darryl to help make our club better,” Steel President Dan Lehv. “The Steel is here to develop our players' talents in both the classroom on the ice and in the community. Through connections we had in the hockey world we were able to bring in Ryan to help lead us on an interim basis.”

Abalan had taken over as head coach for Dan Muse, who left the Steel to pursue an assistant coaching position with the Nashville Predators of the NHL.

Multiple attempts to reach Abalan for comment were unsuccessful.

“Darryl and his staff will be on the ice with our players over the next 10 weeks in group sessions on ice and video sessions off ice,” Lehv said. “I wish Mark [Abalan] all the best in his future endeavors.”

Prior to be replaced by the Steel, Abalan had led the Steel to its highest winning percentage in the USHL Eastern Conference.

“This all happened pretty fast for me, honestly,” Cruthers said. “It really had just developed over the last eight days. I am just taking it one day at a time. I would like to be permanent coach of the club, but we will see. I know we will be a puck-possession type team who will play a very up-tempo kind of game which I hope fans will enjoy.”

Before coming to the Steel, Cruthers held interim head coaching positions with the Reading Royals (ECHL) and the New Jersey Titans (North American Hockey League).

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