Chill has chances to improve in weeks ahead

The Coulee Region Chill have the opportunity to build some good feelings, and some wins, over their next three weekend series.

Although they probably can’t do much more than move from fourth place to third in the NAHL Midwest Division no matter how well they play, a big February could do wonders in the momentum department.

The Chill’s next four games are against teams with a combined record of 12-66-6. Coulee Region (13-22-6) is at Minot (4-37-2) today and Saturday and then at Chicago (8-29-4) on Feb. 10-11. Those are the worst and third-worst teams, respectively, in the NAHL.

First up is Minot, which has lost 15 consecutive games and won just one game since Oct. 22. The Minotauros fired head coach Ben Johnson on Tuesday and replaced him with assistant Marty Murray, a former NHL player.

“We have to sweep; there’s no reason we shouldn’t,” Chill coach Garrett Strot said. “We’re in no position to overlook anyone.”

Coulee Region will return home Feb. 17-18 to host Springfield. Springfield is in third place in the Midwest, four points ahead of the Chill. The top four teams in each division advance to the playoffs.

Strot admitted he looked at the February calendar and saw three important weekends. The Chill were swept at home by Midwest leader Janesville this past weekend.

“They are big games and we brought that up Saturday,” Strot said. “That was a tough loss because we played well and didn’t have anything to show for it. But if we continue with the same grit and determination we have a chance to go on a run here.”

Standings-wise, it’s not likely Coulee Region will fall to fourth, where Chicago resides, or make it as high as first (Janesville, 63 points) or second (St. Louis, 54 points), so a leap-frog into third might not seem like a huge deal.

But the Chill are a team that has experienced significant roster turnover, especially on defense. The next three weeks likely will determine if Coulee Region will be No. 3 with a bullet headed into the playoffs, or just a bump in the road for Janesville or St. Louis.

“The number one thing is to get more scoring because it takes so much pressure off you,” Strot said.

Strot said the line of Tommy Miller (18 points), Ross Luedtke (24 points) and David Ripple (24 points) is playing well and he will keep the trio together with the expectation that they’ll continue to generate offense.

HEFLIN’S CHANCE: Rookie goaltender David Heflin replaced workhorse Aaron Davis, the NAHL saves leader, in the second period of the Friday game against Janesville and played all of Saturday’s game.

Strot said he is leaning toward starting Heflin on Friday in Minot.

“(Davis) might be getting a little too complacent and need to be pushed a little bit,” Strot said. “I don’t think (Davis) is fatigued. It was like with (starter Paul) Moberg last year; he didn’t seem as sharp and we brought in Davis.”

RIESGRAF OUT: Defenseman Brady Riesgraf will miss the Minot series with an undiagnosed illness. Strot said Riesgraf has lost 15-20 pounds since being acquired from Fargo (USHL) in November and recently has been feeling physically weak.

Riesgraf is home in the Twin Cities area for tests.

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