By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune |Wednesday, March 23, 2011
ONALASKA — Lucas Dillon said there were moments of frustration, naturally. To go from being your high school team’s leading scorer to a third-line player is not an easy transition, but Dillon realized it’s a part of life in junior hockey.
The lessons Dillon learned last season are paying off in a big way.
The 20-year-old forward from Thief River Falls, Minn., has a team-leading six game-winning goals to go with 49 points as the Chill dig in for a playoff run.
“It was tough, but I just had to keep telling myself, you’re going to get your chance,” Dillon said of his first season. “It’s a waiting game, too. The older guys get their time and when you get your chance you’ve got to make the best of it.”
Dillon played in 54 games for North Iowa — now the Chill — in 2009-10 and scored 14 points. The low numbers didn’t fool coach Garrett Strot.
“He was actually a very good first-year player,” Strot said. “It was just more of being a third, fourth line guy, but he has always been a skilled player. The confidence of having that first year of experience, he’s really taken off. I knew he was going to have a good year this year but I didn’t expect the kind of numbers he’d put up.”
After last season, Dillon went home to Thief River Falls and worked with his high school coach Tim Bergland, a former University of Minnesota and NHL player.
“I worked my butt off to get stronger and faster,” Dillon said. “It slowed the game down for me a lot starting with (tryout) camp. I felt like I could see the ice a lot better and everything came to me more.”
Dillon’s offense took off in early November, and he scored two-game winning goals, one in overtime, against Austin eight days apart.
“All of a sudden, man, he took off and elevated his game and he’s been there ever since,” Strot said. “He’s always been a pretty consistent player. This year it’s just more of a confidence thing and it shows; he’s scored some big goals for us.”
Dillon’s six game-winners are tied for seventh in the NAHL. Teammates Micky Knox and Zac Frischmon have four each.
Dillon has been effective in all situations. His 24 goals this season are a big jump from the eight he had at the same point (54 games) a year ago. He’s also plus-15, second among the team’s forwards.
“I feel like it’s 90 percent confidence, just knowing you can put it in the net,” he said. “You think back to games where you’ve done it before and it comes easier now.”
The improvement of Dillon and the Chill’s other North Iowa veterans has taken the team from 15 wins to 33 and a playoff berth.
Central-division leading Coulee Region plays at Alexandria on Friday and Saturday and hosts Austin for its final regular-season game Sunday. The Chill need two points to clinch home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
“I was thinking about last year, and to be honest, around this time we wanted to get out of there,” Dillon said. “No one was having fun. This year we’re ready to get to the playoffs. It’s a complete 360.”
Dillon knows that as one of the team’s top goal scorers, along with Frischmon, Knox, Connor Gaarder and David Ripple, he will be expected to keep producing in the playoffs.
“I like having that mindset,” Dillon said. “The coach expects you to score and you go out there expecting to score.”