By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune | Wednesday, January 12, 2011
ONALASKA – Coulee Region Chill co-owner Mark Motz was taking care of some chores at the OmniCenter on Monday afternoon when his 1½-year-old golden retriever, Mesa, got loose.
The dog inspected nearly every corner of the building, even making an appearance on the team's bench during the middle of practice, before Motz caught up with her.
Mesa seemed to approve of her surroundings. The Chill do, too.
The Coulee Region NAHL junior hockey franchise is in its first season in Onalaska after moving from Mason City, Iowa, where it was the North Iowa Outlaws, this past March.
Through 13 of 27 home dates, approximately the midway point of the team's inaugural season at the OmniCenter, Motz is happy with the response to the team while acknowledging there's more work to do.
The Chill's average home attendance is 698. The most recent home game, Jan. 8 against Alexandria, drew 872.
"I haven't had anybody say anything bad at games, there haven't been any negatives," Motz said. "I'd like to see the attendance up, and I hope we'll grow into that. The word-of-mouth about us will come with time."
Motz has said all along that his target for attendance is 800-1,000. Because of prior ice commitments at the OmniCenter, the Chill were on the road for their first six games and waited 6½ weeks from the Sept. 15 opener at the NAHL Showcase to the home opener Oct. 29.
That might have hampered the franchise's ability to market itself in the area, but Motz said it was "good news-bad news" because historically NAHL teams don't begin drawing well until after Thanksgiving.
Motz said that if there have shortcomings in regard to the team's catching on in the La Crosse sports community, the blame lies with the team, not fans.
"We've got to get out in the community more and introduce people to what's going on," Motz said. "I had someone ask, ‘What do you do that would make my wife want to come to a game? That's the question. We need to make it more of an event."
OmniCenter building manager Tom Hammill said the addition of the Chill as a primary tenant – the team rents locker room and office space in addition to ice time – has been smooth.
"I think overall it's been a positive move for us here," Hammill said. "I think right now the response has been good. It's not just an adult event, it's a kids' event and that's been a plus. Win or lose, people seem to walk out of here saying they've seen an upper-level brand of hockey and it does bring them back."
So far, fans have been accepting but also quiet. Motz said that on opening night there were close to 1,100 people in the building but "you could hear a pin drop" at times.
Goaltender Paul Moberg got used to playing for vocal crowds in Mason City last year. He wouldn't mind that atmosphere developing in Onalaska.
"Fans have gotten a lot better," Moberg said. "We still need 'em to be more rowdy."