The Chill never quite found it, and the Bismarck Bobcats grabbed a 3-1 victory in the decisive Game 5 of the NAHL Central Division playoffs in front of 928 at the OmniCenter.
"It's always hard to fall short when you know there's still season left," Chill coach Garrett Strot said. "You want to be playing until the final day. I told our guys when they walk out of that locker room hold your heads high. They did the organization proud."
Bismarck earned a chance to defend its 2010 NAHL title. The Bobcats will play the Michigan Warriors in a play-in series this weekend with the winner advancing to the Robertson Cup Championships.
The loss ended the Chill's season, the franchise's first in Onalaska after moving from Mason City, Iowa, in the spring of 2010.
"Not the way you want to go out," Chill captain David Mylrea said. "But this is a great group of guys. We came together as a family and pushed for that goal. We fell one game short and that's tough."
Coulee Region and Bismarck had played each other 11 times heading into Monday's game. It was a hard series to figure.
During the regular season, the teams played three one-goal games, Bismarck had one shutout and Coulee Region scored 15 goals during one three-game stretch. The playoffs saw Bismarck take series leads of 1-0 and 2-1 only to have the Chill come back. Coulee Region won in overtime Saturday to force Game 5.
The Chill knew the key to taking down Bismarck was to get to goaltender Ryan Faragher. The St. Cloud State recruit, who led the Bobcats to last year's title, was the epitome of hot-and-cold against Coulee Region throughout the season.
So when Chill forward Berkley Scott redirected Matt Blomquist's shot past Faragher 51 seconds into the game, it looked like a good sign.
"After that first goal we were all really excited," said Scott, who scored five goals in nine playoff games. "The coaches kept telling us to keep shooting the puck and we'd open the floodgates. The bounces didn't go our way tonight and you've also gotta work for your bounces."
Bismarck coach Layne Sedevie was well aware of the Chill's desire to get at Faragher early to take him off his game.
"I just don't think we were ready to play and they jumped on us early, exactly what they wanted to do," Sedevie said. "I think the good thing is we didn't really panic. We knew we had a lot of hockey game left and we just wanted to get back to moving our feet and hard work."
The Bobcats tied the game at 16:23 of the first when Bryce Schmitt found an open lane on a rush and chipped a pass from Francis DeAugustine over the shoulder of Paul Moberg (43 saves).
Bismarck took the lead 2½ minutes into the second when defenseman Rodney LaLonde threw a shot at the net from about 50 feet out and it zipped through traffic and past Moberg. It was the first goal in 59 NAHL games for LaLonde.
"He got it when it mattered," Sedevie said.
After that, Faragher (33 saves) took over. He turned away a nice play by the Chill's top snipers when Zac Frischmon fed Connor Gaarder in the slot with 3:47 left in the second and made 12 stops in the third period.
Faragher's biggest save came with 57 seconds left in the third, Bismarck clinging to its 2-1 lead and Moberg on the bench for a sixth skater.
Coulee Region's Micky Knox got the puck low in the slot and heaved a backhander toward the high corner of the net. Faragher snapped his glove on it.
"He made some huge saves for us," Sedevie said. "We believe in him in big games, he won us a championship last year and he's definitely our guy."
Twenty-three seconds later, Castan Sommer put away an empty-netter for Bismarck.
"We felt real confident after getting that first goal early and we had some opportunities and a lot of jump to start the game," Strot said. "Faragher held strong and made some big saves."