By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune | Sunday, April 10, 2011
KASSON, Minn. — Aaron Davis took a deep breath and exhaled heavily. The Coulee Region goaltender was still dealing with some nervous energy 10 minutes after a 3-1 victory over the Owatonna Express in Game 4 of the NAHL Central Division playoffs Saturday at Dodge County Arena.
Davis will have plenty of time to recover fully. The Chill won three straight, including two on the road, to clinch the best-of-five series. Coulee Region advances to the division finals and will play Alexandria or Bismarck, whose series is tied 2-2 and will conclude Monday.
Owatonna again didn’t make it easy on Davis and the Chill, scoring with 1:29 remaining in the third period to cut the lead to 2-1.
“They really kick it into gear at the end of games,” Davis said of the Express. “Luckily we brought it to ’em and got that goal.”
Playoff hero Zac Frischmon, who scored overtime game-winners in Games 2 and 3, put away an empty-netter with 22 seconds left, and the celebration was on.
The playoff series win was the first in the history of the North Iowa/Coulee Region franchise.
Coulee Region lost six of eight to Owatonna during the regular season. The Express then took Game 1 at the OmniCenter. But from then on the Chill got clutch play in the series from Frischmon, who turned in six points, and Davis, who went 3-0.
“We were 6-1-1 against them during the season but I knew we matched up against them pretty well,” Chill coach Garrett Strot said.
The Chill scored first as Berkley Scott took a pass from David Ripple and beat Charles Williams (27 saves).
“I was telling the guys before the game that I want us to get the first goal,” Scott said. “It didn’t have to be me, I was lucky enough to get a great pass from Ripple and score.“
The game remained 1-0 until late in the third thanks to the play of Davis and Williams. Early in the second, Coulee Region worked the puck around for almost two full minutes of a power play but couldn’t get anything past Williams.
Davis, who finished with 25 saves, withstood heavy pressure in the final five minutes as Owatonna cranked up its attack looking for the tying goal.
Instead, Chill defenseman Matt Blomquist made it 2-0 on a rush, getting a puck past Williams at 17:18.
“I was just looking to get the puck to the net,” said Blomquist, who led Coulee Region defensemen in scoring during the regular season. “To be honest, it was pretty lucky. It looked like he lost track of it.“
For the third straight game, Owatonna pulled Williams for an extra attacker and produced a goal. Nick Widing crashed the net and chipped a puck past Davis at 18:31.
“I wanted the shutout,” Davis said. “He shot the puck off my arm and it just got past me.“
The Express held the puck deep in the Chill’s zone, trying furiously to tie the game, when Mike McDonald chipped it out of the corner to Frischmon, who skated in for an empty-netter.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about,” Strot said. “You have to learn to play in tight games and not panic.“