By ROY LANG III, Journal Sports
The Man of Steel. Ironman. Captain.
These descriptions would make you believe a superhero is the topic. Well, that’s not far from the truth. Garrett Steele has been nothing less for the Shreveport Mudbugs.
Off the ice, the Chelsea, Michigan product is somewhat reserved. A pair of prescription glasses often masks the heart and determination to lead and to achieve. Winning championships (he already has one) is an obvious goal, but his desire to make his teammates better human beings may be an accomplishment with less pizzaz, but much more impact.
“I just hope the younger guys in the locker room can take a piece away from something I taught them – on the ice or off the ice,” Steele told the Journal. “It’s important to me to leave my mark on the people, not just the program.”
The Mudbugs, captained by Steele, are in the midst of a postseason run they hope ends in another North American Hockey League Robertson Cup title. Tonight, Shreveport hosts rival Lone Star in Game 3 of a South Division semifinal. The series is tied at one.
No matter when this quest for a Cup ends, it will be the end of the line for Steele in teal and purple.
“It’s tough to not think about it, but the boys make it easy – going into the locker room and letting the environment overwhelm me,” the 21-year-old Steele said. “There are only a handful of those situations remaining. I’ve been focused on taking that in and playing good hockey.”
While Steele’s tangible resume in Shreveport is still to be determined, his legacy is cemented.
“He’s the man of steel. He’s a true ironman,” Mudbugs head coach Jason Campbell said. “He doesn’t miss games. He plays so hard and physical. To play that style of hockey and for as many games as he’s played is hard to do.”
Steele is already the most-accomplished player for Shreveport in the NAHL. He’s made 206 regular-season appearances — 43 more than Davis Goukler and 87 more than the closest active Mudbug, Logan Gotinsky. Tonight will mark his 17th postseason game – his four career playoff goals are one off the NAHL franchise mark (Ryan Burnett, Giovanni Procopio). He also leads the franchise in career regular-season NAHL goals (47).
The numbers are gaudy, but Steele’s influence goes far beyond the boxscores. The former defensive back at Chelsea High has become Shreveport’s ironman despite a relentless approach to every shift, all while battling diabetes.
“He manages all that so well,” Campbell said. “He has great conditioning; he can withstand punishment and give punishment.”
Steele arrived in Shreveport in 2019. Early on, his ferocious pace cost him playing time.
“He came in working hard, but it took a while to get used to being able to play so hard every night. Sometimes, we’d play him one game and have to sit him the next because he was fatigued.”
Following Shreveport’s most recent Robertson Cup championship (2021), Steele replaced David Breazeale as the team’s captain.
“Watching (Breazeale) be a captain was so special to me because I knew one day that’s where I wanted to be and that’s what I had to do to get there,” Steele said.
Don’t look for a lot of hooting and hollering from the “C.”
“He leads by example,” Campbell said. “He’s not super vocal, but he can be. He speaks up when he has to. There are four or five times a year he lays into the bench. He has a great awareness of the pulse of the room and the way the guys are feeling on the ice.
“He is the captain. He carries himself that way, but includes everybody in the leadership process.”
In addition to Breazeale, Steele credits his father, Tucker, for providing “a great example of a leader.”
Said Steele: “I’ve followed my father my whole life and will continue to. He’s laid the brickwork for me to be able to be where I’m at today.”
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound forward was a bit skeptical of hockey in the south and the ability to “even keep ice in this weather,” but he was pleasantly surprised with the folks he encountered.
“The best thing is being around people who hold themselves to the Mudbugs standard,” Steele said. “They are special people.”
With just a handful of games left on George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum, Steele vows to soak up every fist bump to and from the ice and every moment on it.
“There’s just no other building like that with fans as engaged as they are here,” Steele said.
Steele had big shoes to fill as the fifth captain during the team’s seven NAHL seasons. It seems he’s done Breazeale, Jay Feiwell, Dominick Procopio and Steven Mather proud.
“All those guys, they buy into (Mudbugs hockey) and they are selfless in their journey to want to be captain,” Campbell said.
In addition to hopefully capturing a second Robertson Cup, how would Steele like to be remembered?
“I’m really proud of the way I’ve handled myself,” he said. “I’ve done a good job of being a role model when I need to be a role model and being a friend when I need to be a friend. I’ve grown more as a person down here than I have a hockey player – a lot of human growth.”
And the story’s not quite finished. If the Mudbugs can find a way to collect eight more playoff victories over the next three weeks, Steele could add “Superman” to his list of monikers.
Mudbugs vs. Lone Star
(best-of-5 series tied at 1)
Game 3: Tonight, 7:11 p.m., George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum
Game 4: Saturday, 7:11 p.m., George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum
Game 5 (if necessary): Monday, 7 p.m., NYTEX Sports Centre, North Richland Hills, Texas
NAHL Mudbugs’ all-time leaders
Career regular-season games
Garrett Steele, 206
Davis Goukler, 163
Gueorgui Feduolov, 159
Career regular-season goals
Garrett Steele, 47
Cameron Cook, 41
Frankie Melton, 35
Career regular-season points
Gueorgui Feduolov, 75
Garrett Steele, 56
Austin Brimmer, 54
Contact Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @roylangiii