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Chill forward knows secret to his success: his physical play

By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune| Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ONALASKA — David Ripple has achieved enlightenment, at least within the 200-by-85-foot world of a hockey rink.

Ripple, a second-year forward for the Coulee Region Chill, knows exactly who he is and who he isn’t. Call it a rugged state of Zen.

“I’m a power forward,” Ripple said. “I’m not going to be a skill guy; I’m not going to be the one that’s skating around guys. I want to stay strong in front, keep hitting and be a physical forward.”

The Coulee Region Chill opens the 2011-12 season against the Jamestown Ironmen in the NAHL Showcase Tournament at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday in Blaine, Minn.

Ripple claims he’s not a skilled player, but he does own a specific and effective set of skills. 

With a big body — he’s 6-feet-2, 200 pounds — and soft hands, Ripple has the ability to stand in front of an opponent’s net, take all kinds of punishment, find the puck on the fly and redirect it in for a goal.

“He’s a guy that plays tough in the corners, wins the battles and plays in front of the net,” Chill coach Garrett Strot said. “He’ll get a lot of goals there.”

Ripple scored 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) in 55 games last season, his first in the NAHL. 

After turning in just nine points over the first three months of the season, Ripple found his game, leading the team with 14 points in January and emerging as a nightly threat after that.

Ripple, who grew up in Winter Springs, Fla., said it took some time to adjust to the level of play and figure out his role in the NAHL. Plus, he was making the switch from defense to forward.

“It’s a totally different level of hockey here,” Ripple said. “I fought my first few weekends, thinking maybe that’s my way of getting in (the lineup), and coach respected that and moved me to third line. I got some points and just kept working my way up.”

Ripple is one of six returning forwards on this year’s team. 

He is expected to pick up where he left off and be a top goal scorer. 

But don’t expect him to get his points in the style of Connor Gaarder or Zac Frischmon, the team’s top snipers last season.

“If I try to do that, I’m not going to be successful,” Ripple said. “It’s going to be my size and my strength, burying it around the net more than skating around guys one-on-one.”

As for his deft ability to tip in pucks or slide them through traffic, Ripple doesn’t know where it came from. 

He grew up playing roller hockey in Florida, a game that emphasizes wide-open skating and extra passes rather than banging around in the crease.

“Just hand-eye coordination, I guess,” Ripple said. “If I can put pucks in that way, I’ll take ’em. You need to get goals like that.”

OPENING LINES: Strot has his lines set for the season opener. The plan is to have the six veteran forwards mixed with six rookies.

Ripple, Tommy Miller and Mac Jansen will start as the top line. The other trios are Jakob Batcha-Ben Jaremko-Ross Luedtke; Jake Useldinger-Myles Maltz-Pavel Rott; and an all-rookie line of Tyler Klein-Micah Ranum-Cory Lushanko, with veteran James Hughes (leg) injured.

Rookie forward Greg Walton (knee) and backup goaltender David Heflin (knee) are expected to be out for extended periods with injuries.

FOR STARTERS: The Chill went 3-1 at the NAHL Showcase last season and rode that to a 7-3 start. 

Strot wouldn’t mind having the same thing happen this year.

“It’s a long season and it’s not make-or-break,” Strot said. “But I think it’s important for the team and the psyche to get a good start. 

“That made a big difference for us last year.”