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Chill’s Davis refines his ‘hybrid’ style to excel in goal

By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune | Thursday, March 17, 2011

Aaron Davis was on edge throughout the Coulee Region Chill's final tryout camp last summer in Anoka, Minn.

Looking around at the other goaltenders, Davis saw a lot of skill and knew that a few of his competitors had been tendered contracts by the team. Veteran Paul Moberg, of course, had the No. 1 spot locked.

If only Davis knew what was being said up in the stands by the guys with clipboards, he might have relaxed.

"He came to all our tryout camps and he was the best goalie," Chill coach Garrett Strot said. "That pretty much sold us on him. By the time camp was over, we thought he was the best one."

Strot had kept that to himself, and Davis walked into the upstairs conference room of the Anoka Ice Arena for his post-tryout verdict from the coaches with no idea what to expect. The good news came, and Davis was relieved but also knew the hard work had just begun.

"Once the season started and we got practicing with the veterans, right away I saw how good they were," Davis said. "So for a little while it was pretty overwhelming."

It didn't take long for Davis, a first-year player from Mound, Minn., to reward the coaches' decision to make him Moberg's backup this season. Davis has played in 15 games with a 9-3-1 record, 3.32 goals against average and .912 save percentage.

"Once he got a couple games in – he was nervous the first couple – he settled in and got used to the pace and the shots," Strot said. "It's good for us because we can get Paul some rest. (Moberg) got a lot of minutes early, and now it's easy to put Aaron out there."

The Chill, who have qualified for the NAHL Robertson Cup playoffs, have six regular-season games left, including three this weekend. They host Janesville on Friday and Saturday and Austin on Sunday.

Strot said Davis will get some starts as the regular season winds down. As far as the playoffs, Strot is about as eager to reveal his goalie plan as he is to give up a prime seat on the team bus.

"I could see that," Strot said of Davis getting a playoff start.

There were no guarantees for Davis when the season began. Even though he made the team out of camp, he had to perform or risk having the team sign another goalie.

Davis won his first start, an NAHL Showcase game against Kenai River in Blaine, Minn., but gave up six goals in a loss Oct. 9 at Aberdeen. Moberg started the next 11 games, and Davis used the month-and-a-half to clean things up.

"I got my confidence back by working hard in practice," Davis said. "I got over the little slump and got in a few more games. It's hard to judge exactly what it was; one day I started clicking and I have ever since."

Davis stopped 72 of 80 shots over Thanksgiving weekend in wins over Austin and Alexandria.

"It was about the third game he played that he relaxed and played like the goalie he is," Strot said. "You could see all of a sudden he was comfortable."

At 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds, Davis is a classic undersized goalie who must use quickness to overcome lack of net coverage. It worked for him growing up and throughout high school, and it's working again now. Davis said Twin Cities area goalies coach Ryan Ess and Chill coach Chris Olson have helped him refine his style.

"I've always been pretty quick, but it's tough being shorter with your shoulders not being as high and not being as wide," Davis said. "I've figured out a good style that works for me and allows me to hold my own. It's a hybrid of a bunch of different styles. It's confusing but it works out."

Davis won't be as confused this summer when he's back at tryouts. It's likely that he'll take over Moberg's role as the incumbent starter, with everyone else trying out for the backup job.

"He'll be the No. 1 guy and hopefully we'll bring in another goalie," Strot said.

Once again, that's news to Davis.

"I hope they want me back," Davis said. "We'll have to see what happens."