Chill positions itself as contenders

 by Brian McDonough | NAHL.com | February 1, 2011

Still in contention for a Central Division title with two months left to play, the Coulee Region Chill fashioned a 6-4-1 record in January.

That mark certainly didn’t wow head coach Garrett Strot, whose team had its ups and downs during the first month of the year.

“I think our second half has been OK,” said Strot. “We’ve been a little inconsistent; one game we’ll play very well and the next night we might only play one or two good periods and, in our division, you have to play a whole game.”

They got that recipe right last weekend, skating to a two-game sweep over Aberdeen in what Strot says “might have been our most solid back-to-back games in a while.”

The victories over the Wings – 3-1 on Friday and 9-2 on Saturday – were the result of a total team effort, including stellar performances from forward Jakob Batcha, who put home a goal and three assists over the weekend, David Ripple, who netted a hat trick in Saturday’s route, and Lucas Dillon and Zac Frischmon, who combined for two shorthanded goals in the series finale.

“The key was all four of our lines contributing,” said Strot, whose team, through 40 games, has 50 points – one fewer than front-running Owatonna with two games in hand.

Ripple, a 19-year-old from Florida who has 10 goals in his last eight games, has impressed in his first season with the Chill, as has rookie defenseman Eric Drapluk, an NAHL Top Prospects Tournament selection who’s contributed 20 points from the blue line, and forwards Chris Hughes and Jake Useldinger.

“Chris is playing with a lot of confidence, and Jake has continued his consistent play at both ends of the ice,” praised Strot.

The arrival of Batcha, a Coulee Region tender from last year who joined the Chill a couple of weeks ago from the United States Hockey League, has given the team a lift. The only roster addition the Chill has made all season, Batcha, an 18-year-old from Fredonia, Wis., has seven points in his first nine games with the club.

“He’s made an immediate impact,” said Strot.

A successful run at a division title will also call for continued solid play between the pipes from the netminding tandem of Paul Moberg and Aaron Davis, according to the coach.

Said Strot: “The key for us down the stretch is to continue to do the little things that make a difference and we have to play solid team defense.”

And he has little doubt his team has the character and drive to accomplish big things down the stretch.

“I have a lot of confidence in the players we have,” Strot added. “Batcha is the only player we’ve added and that’s because we believe in the guys we scouted and brought in. The biggest thing is that (the players) all pull for each other. We have a very tight room.”

Speaking of tight, so are the Central Division standings, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Chill. It tangles with Austin this weekend – the Bruins knocked off first-place Owatonna twice last weekend – followed by its next nine games against the Express and Bismarck.

“Our division is going to go down to the wire; Alexandria is playing very well right now, too,” said Strot. “You can’t take a game off, or even a period.”