It was a tale of two different seasons for the Coulee Region Chill hockey team in 2015-16.
The season started with an average showing at the NAHL Showcase winning two-of-four games before heading into a dreadful month of October in which the Chill won only two games, one coming in a shootout against the Springfield Jr. Blues in the 2nd home game of the season and later in the month against the Minnesota Magicians in overtime.
The Month of November wasn’t too kind to the Chill either. The team won four games over the span of the month including a 3-1 record against both of the teams in Alaska and Midwest Division opponents, the Kenai River Brown Bears and Fairbanks Ice Dogs.
By the time Christmas rolled around everyone was ready for a break and needed time to regroup.
A 10-17 start to the season isn’t what head coach AJ Degenhardt had expected.
Degenhardt then made a bold trade during the Christmas break. A trade that would move forward and team captain Michael Wilson to the Minnesota Magicians for forwards Kevin Dineen, Larry Jungwirth and Alex Lambacher.
The energy brought in by the new set of forwards gave life to not only the Chill offense but the team as a whole. The Chill scored four-or-more goals in six games throughout the month of January (seven times combined September-December) en route to an 8-2 record. 2nd-year forward Dominik Florian had his best month of the season as did goalie Matiss Kivlenieks, both earning NAHL Player of the Month awards.
Much of the same took place in February. Kivlenieks, 6’2” native of Riga, Latvia, led the Chill all month going 5-0 and taking NAHL Goalie of the Month honors. Newcomer Jungwirth also played a large part in the 6-2 month of February; after sustaining an injury after his first game in a Chill uniform Jungwirth burst onto the scene with four goals and seven assists and finished runner-up in the NAHL Forward of the Month honors.
The first two months of 2016 had the team at an impressive 14-2 record and knocking on the door for their ticket into the 2016 Robertson Cup Playoffs. After going 6-4 in March and struggling through some player injuries, the Chill split their series with the Minnesota Wilderness the first weekend of April. They’d need one win in their final three games of the season to clinch a playoff spot.
And that’s exactly what they got against the Janesville Jets in front of a sell-out crowd at the Green Island Ice Arena on April 9th. The overtime victory put them 4th in the division and knocked the Springfield Jr. Blues out of postseason contention.
The 1st round of the playoffs, however, would be no easy feat and the team knew it going in. The Fairbanks Ice Dogs were not only the 1st seed in the Midwest Division but held the best record in the North American Hockey League.
The Chill proved all season that no matter what your record is you’re never guaranteed anything and you’re certainly never out of contention. They took that mindset into game one against Fairbanks and beat them 6-1 in front of their home crowd.
The rest of the series was a different story. The Chill fell to the Ice Dogs twice in Fairbanks before returning to La Crosse and losing in the best-of-three series on April 22nd.
Regardless of the 1st round loss in the playoffs the Chill showed exactly what you want from a team: resilience and determination. After being afterthoughts for the playoffs at the Christmas break they came together as a group and proved you can never take a team too lightly.
The organization begins a new chapter after their successful season with long-time head coach Degenhardt stepping down and Ryan Egan – former head coach of the La Crosse Freeze (NA3HL) – filling the void. He’s taking over an organization that has momentum and is ready for another run at the Robertson Cup in 2017.