Marshal Plunkett watches the West Salem/Bangor boys hockey team as often as he can. He’s finally able to.

“I’ve been to a few games,” he said. “They’re fun to go to, and the team is fun to watch this year.”

A West Salem High School senior, Plunkett has a lot of good friends on the Panthers’ team, but he didn’t have the opportunity to watch them a year ago. Plunkett began his NAHL (junior hockey) career last season as a 16-year-old rookie, and did so from the often-times harsh confines of Fairbanks, Alaska.

But this season, he’s gone from one extreme to the other. Instead of living more than 3,000 miles from his hometown, he’s sleeping in his own bed as a member of the Coulee Region Chill, and attending high-school classes with his childhood friends for the first time in three years.

“It’s awesome. It really is,” said Plunkett, who was acquired by the Chill via a trade last spring.

“It’s so nice to be able to play junior and pursue my dream, but also be able to go to school with all the kids I grew up with, and to go home to my family, it’s awesome.”

That luxury is one most junior players live without. Plunkett can attest, as he also spent his entire sophomore year playing 16U hockey in Madison.

That kind of displacement is an unfortunate reality of the junior ranks.

Of the 23 active players on Coulee Region’s roster, 15 are living more than 150 miles from home in pursuit of collegiate opportunities. Of those 15, eight are stationed more than 450 miles from their family and childhood friends.

But a few of the Chill are still within shouting distance of home. Seven of Coulee Region’s players are Wisconsin natives, while five live within 20 miles of Green Island Ice Arena. Only the Minnesota Magicians and Minnesota Wilderness boast a more locally grown roster.

“We’re fortunate,” Chill coach Ryan Egan said. “It’s one thing to have talent in the area. It’s another to have talent that wants to improve every day. We’re pretty lucky right now.”

Plunkett is one of three West Salem natives on Coulee Region’s roster, as he’s joined by Taylor Trapp and Bailey Martin. Rookie forward Kevin Bryant hails from La Crosse, and is one of three high-school-aged kids playing for the Chill. Tyler Ebner is another local prospect, playing out his first NAHL season after a productive career at Onalaska.

All five have one thing in common: They don’t need billet families.

With their families within a short driving distance of the arena, all five get to enjoy the comforts of home.

“It’s just so nice having him home,” said Renee Plunkett, Marshal’s mother. “He’s happy to be home, glad to be with his friends and be back for his senior year in high school. He’s going to school with the kids that he’s gone to school with and played hockey with from little on up. He’s happy to be back.”

“Just being with all my friends, having a home-cooked meal, sitting down and eating with my parents, and just being around everyone, being around home, it’s amazing,” Plunkett said. “I definitely missed it.”

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