ONALASKA — The Coulee Region Chill headed into their weeklong Christmas break feeling a little bitter, but mostly better. The Chill lost to the Alexandria Blizzard 1-0 Saturday in front of 560 fans at the OmniCenter in a game that marked the unofficial halfway point of the season.
That stung. But Chill coach Garrett Strot felt good about the way his team rebounded from losing nine out of 10 games from Nov. 5 through Dec. 3.
Coulee Region won back-to-back games over Alexandria before Saturday's loss. Strot had emphasized the three-game set before the break as a key indicator of what direction the team was headed.
"I'm encouraged by the last three games," Strot said. "I've seen a difference. We're making plays that we weren't before."
The Chill are 11-15-4 and in third place in the NAHL Midwest Division through 30 games.
After making only one major personnel move during the 2010-11 season, Strot and general manager Rick Wesp were active during the first half of this season.
Five players were released or traded, bringing in forwards Patrick Steinhauser and Jack McCartan and defensemen Eric Loasby, Eric Swahn and Brady Riesgraf.
"That's started to kick in, plus the fact that we're starting to get healed has helped with our depth," Strot said.
Team captain Eric Drapluk said the trades opened players' eyes.
"I think the intensity picked up," Drapluk said. "Guys realized they had to play well or they might not be here."
The Chill certainly played well for long stretches Saturday night. They just couldn't get a puck that counted past Blizzard goalie Jacob Meyers.
Meyers made 32 saves for his second shutout against Coulee Region this season.
He caught some luck in the third period when he knocked the net off its moorings as the Chill cycled the puck behind him.
Steinhauser wrapped a backhand shot into the net, but the goal was waved off. Meyers received a delay-of-game penalty.
"The net was off before the puck went in," Strot said. "They called the penalty because (Meyers) had off a couple other times. The goal judge even said it wouldn't have went in if the net wasn't off."
The Chill, who scored six goals against Meyers on Saturday, also hurt themselves by misfiring on good scoring chances. They had a 5-on-3 power play for 1 minute, 35 seconds in the first period with the score still 0-0 but never managed a flurry, much less a goal.
Coulee Region goalie David Heflin made his first career start and stopped 35 of 36 shots. Alexandria's second period goal was a sloppy one, a loose puck in front of Heflin that Reid Sturos knocked in.
"Heflin had a couple chances and couldn't come up with it," Strot said. "They kept hacking at it and we didn't do a very good job of tying guys up."
The Chill got their sixth and final power play opportunity at 13:42 of the third, but it was erased 50 seconds later when Mac Jansen was sent off for checking from behind.
"I think we're going into the break satisfied with these last three games and excited to get back," Drapluk said.