ONALASKA — Ross Luedtke was the mystery man at the Coulee Region Chill’s tryout camp this past summer. Luedtke never stepped on the OmniCenter ice during the five-day session but his name still appeared on the final 25-man roster.
It wasn’t magic. Just three clutch high school hat tricks and an NCAA Division I commitment to Air Force (2013) up his sleeve that convinced Chill coach Garrett Strot of Luedtke’s potential.
Luedtke, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound wing from Medina, Minn. (Orono High School) missed the Chill’s summer camp because of a shoulder injury.
He’s made up for it this winter by developing into one of the team’s best young forwards. Luedtke leads Coulee Region in plus-minus (plus-five) and has 20 points in 36 games.
“He’s lived up to everything we thought he would be,” Strot said. “I never saw him play in high school but my dad (scouting director Dan Strot) and (general manager) Rick (Wesp) did, and obviously he had the history with Air Force and them wanting him to play in the NAHL for a year or two.”
Luedtke had a remarkable three-game run in the MSHSL playoffs for Orono this past spring. He scored back-to-back-to-back hat tricks in two wins and a loss in the sectional final.
“He was definitely a big-time goal scorer in high school and that’s what Air Force is looking at is someone who’s eventually going to be on their top two lines,” Strot said.
Luedtke’s senior season almost didn’t happen. He suffered torn ligaments in his right shoulder during the fall and faced a decision to have surgery right away or wait until spring.
“I couldn’t fathom not playing my senior year,” Luedtke said. “I decided to wait to have surgery and had to wear a ‘Sully’ brace, which they call the sports bra from hell. You can’t move, you can’t breathe, but I was able to play the rest of the season.”
Luedtke needed two surgeries, one in March and another in April, so wasn’t able to get on the ice for junior tryouts. But his prep success and the stamp of approval were more than enough for the Chill.
Strot said he believes there’s as much or more pressure on Luedtke compared to a player who hasn’t yet received a college offer.
“He’s here to get better and to prove himself; he’s almost got to work harder when you think about it,” Strot said. “He’s got the commitment but they’ve got to see improvement so they can say they made the right choice.”
Luedtke, who is on a line with veterans David Ripple and Tommy Miller, understands that it takes time for a first-year player to adjust to junior hockey and isn’t being too hard on himself.
“It’s a big jump; it’s real fast and physical in this league,” Luedtke said. “Even now I’m just starting to really feel comfortable on the ice. I feel like my play has stepped up and that I belong out there now.”
KEY SERIES: The Chill host Chicago on Friday and Saturday at the OmniCenter. While it’s far from a marquee matchup, the series does have significance for both teams.
Coulee Region is in fourth place (28 points) in the Midwest Division and Chicago (16) is in fifth. The top four teams in each division advance to the first round of the playoffs.
“It is a little bit of a sense of urgency,” Strot said. “Chicago is going to be coming in needing these games and it’s going to be like a playoff series. If we can win be can push ’em out of the way and we need to get some momentum going.”
NO REST: Coulee Region goaltender Aaron Davis has started 32 of 36 games this season and leads the NAHL with 1,077 saves.
Strot said Davis is holding up physically and will continue to have a heavy workload. Backups Greg Ogard and David Heflin are both rookies.
“Some players will play all 60 games and they skate a lot more than a goalie does,” Strot said. “So if you think about it a goalie should be able to play every game. I’m not too worried about it.”