Coulee Region Chill
Head Coach: AJ Degenhardt (3rd year)
2014-15 record: 28-23-9, 65 pts. (3rd in the Midwest Division)
2014-15 leading scorer: Adam Lovick (66 points)
2015 Playoffs: Lost to the Minnesota Wilderness in the Midwest Division Semi-Finals, 3 games to 2
2015-16 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 23rd vs. Amarillo Bulls
Home opener: Saturday, October 10th vs. Springfield Jr. Blues
Last season was an interesting ride and one that the Coulee Region Chill will remember for a while, for a variety of reasons. Despite winning three less games than the 2013-14 season, the Chill cruised into the playoffs in the Midwest Division with 65 points, which was good enough for 3rd place. They would meet their familiar divisional foes from the North in the Minnesota Wildernes, whom they had struggled all year against. However, the post-season was appeared to be something different as the Chill opened up a 2-0 lead in the best of five series with two huge wins on the road in Cloquet. What followed was a somewhat shocking end to the season for the Chill, who almost came from behind to win Game 3 and the series, and then watch the Wilderness win Games 4 and 5 by identical 9-1 scores. After that, the Wilderness went on to win the Robertson Cup, winning every game since their Game 2 loss to the Chill, but in the end the Chill were the only ones to blemish the Wilderness’ playoff record.
“I think it was key for us to compete the way we did. The Wilderness never gave up and it showed our guys that you have to play every shift of every game, especially come playoff time,” said Chill head coach AJ Degenhardt. “They hit us until we could barley move at the end of the series, that’s how physical it was. But, it was very surreal, because when you have a team down 0-2 in a best of five series I think it is only natural to let yourself think about what may be ahead and we now realize that even when you are down like they were, there is still a chance. They proved that.”
It was also a banner year for the Chill in the NCAA commitment department. A total of nine players and two additional alumni made commitments to NCAA schools this past season, which was the most for the Chill in team history. Some of the more notable commitments included goalie Adam Carlson (Mercyhurst), leading scorer Adam Lovick (Bemidji State) and forward Richard Zehnal (Western Michigan). Degenhardt said it was extremely satisfying for him and the organization to see so many players move on. “You definitely have a sense of pride because these are guys you have spent the last two years with on a daily basis. They put in the work and had the right attitude. They spent the time they needed to on the ice and in the weight room and took care of themselves. NCAA commitments don’t just happen, our guys have to work hard for them, but when it finally happens we feel like that success goes hand in hand with our performance on the ice.”
It was a busy summer for Degenhardt, not only because he lost the meat of his line-up to the NCAA because of the record number of commitments, but also because Degenhardt and his wife welcomed twin girls to his family. “It was a crazy summer, that’s for sure,” said Degenhardt. “It really put things in perspective for me and I learned to be efficient with my time. We had a lot of holes to fill, but I liked what we had returning on defense. That gives us a solid core defensively, which is the cornerstone to team success.”
Nine players from last year’s team return to the line-up, which includes forwards Dominik Florian (33 points), Dawson DiPietro (24 points), Isaac Theisen (15 points), Aussie Miller (14 points) and Kevin Shand (14 points), along with defensemen Brady Ferner, Matt Doran, Jackson Charlesworth, Niko Luka.
Degenhardt said that going into the Chill’s main camp, he was most worried about the goaltending because of the loss of two-year starter Carlson, but at the conclusion of camp he said that it may be one of the team’s strengths. “Goaltending was a concern, but we have three guys on the depth chart now who I am very happy with.” The three goalie include Matiss Kivienieks, who played in one game with the Chill last season and was recently in the Nashville Predators prospect camp. The second goalie is Max McConnell and the other goalie is Hunter Vorva, who played for West Michigan in the NA3HL last year and who also was the NA3HL Goaltender of the Year last season. “I think there is going to be some healthy competition between the three to start the season and that’s what we want,” stated Degenhardt.
Degenhardt said the biggest need and unknown is up front. “We lost some pretty high-end guys like Lovick and Zehnal and towards the end of the Wilderness series, we got pushed around quite a bit up front, so we needed to find some guys who could not only score, but also have a physical presence as well. We hope it is more scoring by committee this season and we hope to get production from all four lines we put on the ice.”
Degenhardt said that now the team has had a taste of the playoffs and what comes along with it he hopes the team can take things to the next level. “I think we have enough guys on the roster this year that went through that experience last year that want to get back this year and show they can take things to the next level. I think they are all hungry and ready to go and we have our sights set on winning the Midwest Division and then setting ourselves up for success in the playoffs, but a Robertson Cup in certainly something we will set our sights on,” finished Degenhardt.