The Green Island Ice Arena was full of fans ready to explode, but the Coulee Region Chill couldn’t find a way to light the fuse in their home opener.
Phil Erickson scored for the Chill early in the second period after Coulee Region surrendered a goal late in the first, but it was the visiting Austin Bruins who capitalized on the momentum, dealing the Chill a 5-2 defeat in front of a crowd estimated at 900 Saturday night.
Erickson scored his first goal of the season just over three minutes into the second period, but Austin responded four minutes later on an AJ Drobot backhander to give the Bruins a lead they would not surrender.
“I thought in the first half of the second (period), we played really well,” first-year Coulee Region coach Ryan Egan said. “We got one early and got back into the game, but then they got one and it took the wind out of our sails. We need to be mentally tougher in those situations.”
The Chill (6-4-1) had an opportunity to tie the game again early in the third period, but Austin’s Tanner Dufault corralled a blocked shot and finished a breakaway on the other end past the outstretched glove of goalie Artur Pavliukov.
Erickson said that the Bruins (5-5-1) simply made more of their chances.
“We weren’t as opportunistic as they were tonight,” Erickson said of Austin, which outshot Coulee Region 38-33. “If we come down on a rush and score, they don’t get to counterattack. If we’re able to bury those chances — and we have veteran guys on this team that know they have to capitalize — those counter attacks don’t happen.”
Some impressive stickhandling by University of Wisconsin commit Trenton Bliss helped set up Shay Donovan for the Chill’s second goal, but the Bruins were able to once again counter on a missed Coulee Region opportunity to extend the lead to 4-2 late in the third. Austin would add an empty-net goal for the final margin.
Egan said that his team was able to create chances, but the number of quality opportunities didn’t develop.
“We need more pucks to the net, more traffic in front, and we need to make something happen,” Egan said. “We just didn’t take good enough care of the puck and didn’t create enough second chances for ourselves. We had a lot of shots on goal, but we didn’t get to the net on second chances to make goals happen for us.”
Erickson emphasized that the experienced Coulee Region side understands where it fell short.
“We’re veterans and we’ve played in this league before,” Erickson said. “We know the expectations that coach has, and we know how to win games, so we just need to jump on our opportunities so we can get on the board early and often so we don’t have to worry about coming back like we had to tonight.”
After 10 road games to begin the season, the Chill will get to spend the week at home preparing for Fairbanks on Oct. 28.
“They are the defending (Robertson Cup) champs and it’s another good opportunity for us,” Egan said. “We’re at home and we have a week to prepare. We got punched in the mouth, and we have to find a way to recover from it.”