Degenhardt Prepares for ‘Exciting’ Season with Incoming Talent

From the La Crosse Tribune:

Coulee Region Chill coach AJ Degenhardt knows what it takes to make a strong playoff push. However, this season he wants to make more than just a push.

After getting his first real look at the team last week during a four-day camp at Green Island Ice Arena, the second-year coach isn’t backing down from that challenge.

“The goal every season is to make the playoffs,” Degenhardt said. “I think there’s definitely the makeup there for a team that can contend for the playoffs and even a championship.”

The Chill announced their initial roster following the camp, which concluded Sunday, and it includes four of the top six points scorers from a year ago.

Forwards Richard Zehnal, Adam Lovick Eddie Matsushima and Blake Kelley combined for 142 points last season, including 53 goals.

The Chill also return goalie Adam Carlson, who had 13 wins last season and a .919 save percentage.

“Our staff was really happy. I think we’re going to have an exciting team this year,” said Degenhardt, who led the Chill to a 31-28-1 season last year as his first full season as head coach.

“All of our draft picks and tenders showed up for camp and they all looked good. We have some exciting new additions up front and I think in the back end we’re going to be a lot younger this season, but I think we have some real high-end skill guys on the blue line.”

Helping make up that young core of defensemen are second-round pick Jackson Charlesworth and fourth-round draft picks Nico Luka and Brady Ferner.

The Chill, who missed the playoffs by one point last season, will be young this season, but Degenhardt is confident in the talent each first-year player is bringing to the ice.

Degenhardt also added that the defense should be upgraded from last year, which was a concern after surrendering the sixth-most goals (181) in the league last season.

“We have a lot of good skilled guys back there that are solid playmakers, who can get the play started with good breakout passes,” Degenhardt said. “I think it’s going to be an exciting thing for fans to watch.”

A handful of local players also participated in last week’s camp but failed to make the roster. Among those local players were Ian Earp and John Gargaro, both of Onalaska, and West Salem/Bangor’s Taylor Trapp. Also, Bailey Martin, of West Salem/Bangor, Justin Kendall, of Aquinas co-op, and Onalaska’s Tyler Ebner participated but were not trying out. All three are still in high school.

“They’re three good young local players that we think have the potential to play in this league at some point and we just wanted to get them out there against some really good competition,” Degenhardt said. “It allows them to experience what it takes to play in this league.”

The Chill report for preseason camp Sept. 1 and open the season Sept. 17 at the NAHL Showcase Tournament in Blaine, Minn.