Chill happy with Plan B on draft day

LACROSSE TRIBUNE BY JOEL BADZINSKI | Thursday, May 27, 2010 12:05 am


RAMSEY, Minn. – There was a bit of chaos, some last-minute shuffling, a few unprintable words and after it was over, relief and smiles.

In other words, like a hockey game itself.

Except there was no final score, just names that will become faces later this summer. The Coulee Region Chill junior hockey team, the area\’s newest sports franchise, participated in the NAHL Entry Draft on Wednesday, taking six players, including Onalaska High School forward Nathan Trannel.

General manager Rick Wesp, coach Garrett Strot and assistant coach Todd Sanden, dressed casually for the event in golf shirts, shorts and sandals, gathered in an office in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities – where all three are still based as they haven\’t moved to the Onalaska area yet – to put together key pieces of next season\’s team.

It was the culmination of many months of scouting games, practices, showcase tournaments and countless hours on the phone.

\”We\’re real excited with the draft,\” Wesp said afterward. \”It went pretty well.\”

The day didn\’t start well. A half-hour before the draft started at

1 p.m., neither Strot nor Sanden had Internet access, a fairly important factor as the draft was to be conducted online.

Instead of poring over his draft list in the final minutes before it was time to pick, Strot was on the phone trying to work out problems with the wireless setup.

So the trio hustled from a conference room to a makeshift setup on a computer with a high-speed line and resumed preparations. The Chill had to wait until the 25th pick of the first round, meaning there was plenty of time to watch and worry.

There were chuckles when Motor City selected a player six picks too soon, and the league\’s Web moderator had to call a draft \”time out\” to correct the mix-up.

There were groans when Amarillo took Dan Scherer, a forward from the Milwaukee Junior Admirals whom the Chill coveted.

\”We\’re gonna go to Plan B,\” Wesp said.

As their pick got closer, Wesp started to fret again.

\”You know what, let\’s get a third guy lined up,\” he said. \”I got a bad feeling.\”

When the 25th pick came up, Wesp, Strot and Sanden felt better. Their next option, forward Martin Gruse from Trenton (Mich.) High School, was available.

\”You go get him if you want him,\” Wesp told Strot, who sat at the computer ready to enter the pick.

Strot did, and Gruse, who led his team to the Michigan Division 2 state title while scoring 19 goals and 28 assists for 45 points, became the first draft pick in Chill history.

Next, the Chill went for Trannel, knowing that in addition to a good local story they were also getting a good hockey player who is still realizing his potential after missing all of his junior season with a knee injury.

By 3:20 p.m., the Chill was done drafting, having added three more forwards and a defenseman.

\”A lot of time, a lot of research,\” Strot said of the process leading up to Wednesday. \”We sent scouts all over the U.S. You\’ve got to have a Plan A, B, and C because you don\’t know what other teams are thinking.\”

The Chill will hold two more open tryout camps this summer, looking for players to sign to tender contracts, before their final training camp Aug. 30-July 1 at a site to be determined.

\”We\’re very excited to get started now,\” Strot said.