By Joel Badzinski | LaCrosse Tribune | Wednesday, April 6, 2011
ONALASKA — Eric Drapluk held back at first. The Coulee Region Chill defenseman decided early this season that the wisest moves he could make were no moves at all, at least for a while.
“You don’t want to give your teammates a bad impression, that they can’t trust you,” Drapluk said. “You want them to be comfortable when you have the puck.”
The Chill selected Drapluk in the fourth round of the NAHL Draft in May of 2010 based on his reputation as an offensive defenseman.
Drapluk scored 19 points in 41 games for Philadelphia (EJHL) in 2009-10, and the year before had played a similar role for Chill coach Garrett Strot’s brother, Brett Strot, in the Jacksonville (Fla.) Ice Dogs program.
But Drapluk made sure he proved reliable in the defensive zone before opening up his bag of offensive tricks.
“The first part of the season you’re just basically adjusting to a new league,” Drapluk said. “Guys are a lot older in this league (than the EJHL) and a lot bigger.”
Drapluk, an 18-year-old from Pembroke Pines, Fla., has steadily emerged as a fast, skilled defenseman. He scored 27 points (three goals-24 assists) in 55 regular-season games. Veteran Matt Blomquist led the team’s defensemen in scoring with 34 points.
The playoffs have brought out the best in Drapluk, who has been paired with Ben Gislason. Drapluk has one goal and one assist with a plus-two rating.
Coulee Region plays Owatonna in Game 3 of a Central Division first-round playoff series at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Kasson, Minn. The best-of-five series is tied 1-1.
“He’s playing with a lot of focus, a lot of determination,” Garrett Strot said. “He’s been all over the ice and because of his speed, he gets up there and as soon as the play ends he backs off. He’ll get the puck and he already knows where he wants to go. That’s what makes him effective.”
NET PLANS: Strot said he’s holding off on deciding who will start in goal Friday.
Paul Moberg made 20 saves and allowed two goals in a 2-1 Game 1 loss. Aaron Davis made 30 saves and allowed three goals in a 4-3 overtime Game 2 win. Both have identical .909 playoff save percentages.
But Moberg has had tough luck against the Express this season — he’s 0-7 — and Davis has won all three of his starts.
“I thought they both played pretty solid,” Strot said. “The one thing is Davis is 3-0 against them. It might just come down to a gut feeling.”
QUIET LINE: Strot stacked his top line with the team’s three leading scorers, Zac Frischmon, Connor Gaarder and Lucas Dillon, for Games 1 and 2.
They turned in just one point, although it was a big one: Frischmon’s overtime game-winner.
“It is a little bit concerning,” Strot said. “But they have put a lot of pressure on. I’ll probably stay with them for another game because they are getting chances, that’s the biggest thing. If they weren’t, it would be a different story.”
VENUE CHANGE: Owatonna will host Games 3 and 4 at the Dodge County Ice Arena in Kasson. Owatonna’s Four Seasons Arena is unavailable.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Strot said. “I just heard it’s a small rink. The advantage is they have never played in it either. Probably have practiced a few times. I’m just having our guys embrace it and look at it as a fun atmosphere, which it should be.”
NAHL Central Division Playoff Semi-Finals
Coulee Region Chill vs. Owatonna Express
Best-of-5 series tied 1-1
Game 1: Owatonna 2, Coulee Region 1
Game 2: Coulee Region 4, Owatonna 3 (OT)
Game 3*: Coulee Region at Owatonna, 7:30 p.m. Friday
Game 4*: Coulee Region at Owatonna, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Game 5**: Owatonna at Coulee Region, 7 p.m. Monday
* At Dodge City Ice Arena, Kasson, Minn.
** If necessary