By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune | Tuesday, April 19, 2011
ONALASKA — The Coulee Region Chill’s endless winter continues.
And they’re enjoying every minute of it.
The Chill began preseason practices on Aug. 31 and haven’t had more than seven consecutive days off the ice since then. This weekend, they’ll try to close out the NAHL Central Division playoff finals against the Bismarck Bobcats.
The Robertson Cup Championship series is May 3-7 at Topeka, Kan.
The Chill have played 58 regular-season games plus six playoff games. Forwards Connor Gaarder and Zac Frischmon and forward/ defenseman Scott Bell have skated in all 64. Gaarder and Frischmon each played another six games in showcase tournaments.
“You’ve got to want to win, and the guys in the (locker) room make it easy to stay here and not want to go home,” Gaarder said. “Toward the end of the season you hit a lull and you want the playoffs to start. Once they do, it’s a whole new feeling. The intensity comes back and it feels good.”
Chill coach Garrett Strot is mindful of the long grind his players endure.
Strot has shortened practices, changed some drills to keep things fresh, and most important used all four lines and three defensive pairs throughout the season.
“We still push ’em hard in practices,” Strot said. “We’ll go for an hour where earlier we’d go for two hours. One day a week we’ll have small games so they’re competing and going hard but it’s also kind of fun for them.”
Forward Chris Hughes, one of eight Chill players who was in high school last year, said it was a challenge to adjust from 25 games to 58. But once he broke through “the wall,” it was all good.
“Everyone loves it,” he said. “This is something we all share as a passion. This is pretty much all we do. We wake up, come to practice, watch film, go home, eat, go to sleep, do it again.”
Coulee Region has gone through the season with a relatively steady roster, considering most NAHL teams shuffle players in and out regularly.
The Chill made one major move, acquiring forward Jakob Batcha from the USHL They released or traded three players (forwards Kevin Mansolill, DJ Thomas and Dane Shaugabay) early in the season and lost two (forwards Brian Broders and Nathan Trannel) to injury.
Continuity has led to chemistry. Strot said he’s seen players on other teams get tired of being around each other after eight months, but not this group.
“It’s a good group, there’s no cliques and they just get along really well,” Strot said. “You’re going to have years it’s not that way.”
MOBERG IN: Goaltender Paul Moberg will start Game 3 Friday at Bismarck, Strot said.
Moberg made 44 saves to back Coulee Region to a 6-3 win over the Bobcats in Game 2. He’s 1-1 with a 2.50 GAA in the playoffs, including a loss in Game 1 of the first-round series against Owatonna.
Aaron Davis started the rest of the Owatonna series, winning three straight, then gave up six goals to Bismarck in the opener.
“We’re going to go with Moberg,” Strot said. “I just told him I want to see him take over the series kind of like Davis did in the first series. Now it’s Moberg’s opportunity.”
WINTER BLUES: Chill forward David Ripple proclaimed his love for all things winter this past January.
The native Floridian wasn’t so jolly after Tuesday’s practice as he walked to the OmniCenter parking lot to brush heavy April snow off his car.
“It won’t go away,” said Ripple, who is spending his first winter outside the Sunshine State. “I thought we were done with this five times already. I don’t like it.”
BATCHA UPDATE: Batcha did not play in the first two games of the Bismarck series.
Strot said Batcha returned to Fargo, N.D. to finish some classwork. Batcha, a Fredonia, Wis., native, also needed to return home to have a shoulder inflammation looked at.
Coulee Region acquired Batcha from Fargo (USHL) on Jan. 5. He scored 10 points in 23 regular-season games and didn’t have a point in the Owatonna series.