ONALASKA — Chris Hughes must have built up some good karma while playing for the Coulee Region Chill in 2010-11.
The reaction Hughes got when he returned to the Chill’s dressing room Friday was comparable to an “Oprah” crowd being told everyone was getting a new car.
Hughes, a forward, was re-acquired this week by the Chill after playing 33 games for the Kalamazoo Jr. K-Wings. He officially signed Saturday morning, but was at the OmniCenter for Friday’s game.
“(Jake) Useldinger was the only one on the team who knew,” Hughes said. “He walked in (Friday) morning with me and said ‘Guess who’s back to tear stuff up?’ The right side of the room is all vets and the left side is all rookies so they were confused. The right side stood up and just erupted. It was a good homecoming, for sure.”
The Chill drafted Hughes in the fourth round in 2010. He was second in scoring among rookies, behind David Ripple, in 2010-11. He had 12 goals and 18 assists (30 points) and added two assists in eight playoff games.
The Chill parted ways with Hughes amicably this past off-season. The Michigan native simply was looking to play closer to home.
Chill coach Garrett Strot didn’t bring Hughes back for a nostalgia trip. With the team floundering at 24th in the NAHL in scoring (2.74 gpg.) through Friday, Strot was actively looking to make a move.
“We had been looking and some teams had been offering proven scorers but their price was too high,” Strot said. “Chris was in Kalamazoo and struggling a little bit getting the ice time he wanted, and we thought, you know what, he had 30 points for us last year. He’s excited about being here and the players are excited about having him.”
Hughes knows he will be expected to help wake up the team’s offense.
“Hopefully I can bring that spark that they need,” Hughes said.
D-VELOPING: The Chill have had a profound turnover on defense this season. Tate Rusk, Adam Barlow and Ben Gislason have all been moved. Veteran Andrew Pitts has asked to be traded but a move hasn’t been made yet. He is not with the team.
Eric Loasby, Brady Riesgraf and Eric Swahn were brought in, and are all now healthy and playing regular minutes.
“Guys like Swahn, Loasby and (Adam) Thomas have come a long way,”Strot said. “Their job is to keep it simple because they’re not offensive guys.”
LOOKING AHEAD: The Chill will host Midwest Division leader Janesville on Jan. 27-28 in what could be a first-round playoff preview.
Coulee Region is 1-3 against the Jets this season; two games have gone to shootouts.
“We’ve got to be ready for them because they work hard,” Strot said.