Fleming hopes to take Chill in the right direction

Written by Joel Badzinski, La Crosse Tribune Sports Columnist

ONALASKA — Jake Fleming knows there are limitations to what he can do as the Coulee Region Chill’s interim coach.

Fleming also knows six weeks is more than enough time make a good impression.

The Chill, stuck in neutral for most of this season, on Monday fired third-year coach Garrett Strot, replacing him with assistant Jake Fleming.

Fleming ran his first practice Tuesday afternoon at the OmniCenter, determined to get the Chill headed in the right direction over their final nine regular-season games.

Coulee Region, which needs to win just one of those nine to clinch the fourth and final playoff spot in the Midwest Division, plays at Janesville on Friday and Saturday.

“We had a team meeting this morning,” Fleming said. “My message was we’re going to try and keep things as simple as possible with our systems and our focus is going to be on playing together and winning battles every shift.”

Fleming reminded the players during the morning meeting that the primary reason they’re in junior hockey is to develop toward the next level, and to that end they have to be self-motivated.

“My promise is that I’ll be organized and prepared and do whatever I can to help them,” Fleming said. “I reminded them that this is a great opportunity, this is the time of year when more college coaches will have time to come and scout so they need to take this opportunity and make the most out of the next six weeks.”

Fleming, 29, played two seasons of junior hockey, with the U.S. National Developmental team and the USHL’s Omaha Lancers. The Osseo, Minn., native went on to play for Minnesota from 2001-05, helping the Gophers win national championships in 2002 and ’03.

The Chill hired him in 2011 after he spent six years coaching bantams in Osseo/Maple Grove and Elk River (Minn.).

“I always wanted to have a head coaching position (in juniors) somewhere but I didn’t expect it to happen this way,” Fleming said. “I look at it as an opportunity and I’ll try to take advantage of it.”

Fleming said his background playing for a powerhouse Division I program isn’t something he puts front and center.

“I’m not a coach that says, ‘Just because I was there …’” Fleming said. “The good that came from it is I learned a ton playing in college and juniors and I can bring it back to them. I know I have to earn their respect first.”

Second-year forward Ben Jaremko said it was “tough to see Garrett (Strot) go,” but the players understand why the move was made and are prepared to move on.

“Maybe with Jake as head coach we’ll find new confidence and dig a little deeper,” Jaremko said.

ASSISTANT ADDED: Chris Olson, who has worked as part-time goaltenders coach for the Chill the past two seasons, will finish the year as Fleming’s assistant.

ROSTER MOVE: The NAHL cutoff for roster moves was a month ago, meaning the Chill can’t replace forward David Ripple (knee) or defenseman Matt Blomquist, whose NAHL eligibility has expired.

Fleming said they signed defenseman Matt Fosdick from Brookfield, Wis., before the deadline. Fosdick, who is a senior in high school and will not practice during the week, finished his season at the WIAA State Tournament and play in the Chill’s final four weekend series.