No one on the ice pushed the panic button, no one got a kick in the breezers and no one in the front office was contemplating playing let’s make a deal.
With that said, the Coulee Region Chill are a different team in November than they were the month before.
An 0-5 start isn’t entirely forgotten, but when the Chill (4-7-1-1) take the ice tonight against the Minnesota Magicians (9-5-1-1), they will do so with a three-game winning streak. In fact, Coulee Region has won four of its last six games.
So what happened? What switch was turned on and by whom?
“We are playing with a little more urgency,” said second-year Chill coach Ryan Egan, whose team has outscored its last three opponents 12-7.
“Early on, we weren’t playing with a shooter’s mentality and were not getting enough pucks to the net. We have been working on that and talking about it. I think that has helped.”
So has the play of defenseman Brandon Koch, a 6-foot, 171-pounder who is in his first year of junior hockey after playing at prep power Shattuck-Saint Mary’s in Faribault, Minn. Koch, as proven by his team-best 13 assists, gets involved in both ends of the ice and gets others involved, too.
“If you look at his stats, he has a goal and 13 assists, so he has been that puck mover that we have needed,” Egan said. “His movement of the puck has found ways to create offense for us, and that has helped for sure.”
Koch recently committed to NCAA Division I Air Force Academy — the plan is to join the team for the 2019-2020 season — but until then, there are two years of junior hockey to play.
And playing with the Chill, he says, has tested him both mentally and physically.
“It wasn’t a great start, but I mean it (turnaround) all started with the older kids, the vets, as they kept an even keel in the locker room,” Koch said. “We weren’t happy about it (slow start), but we couldn’t get down on ourselves, so we kept pushing and finally we started playing well and putting things together.”
The Chill’s about-face was not a one-period or one-game thing, yet a gradual improvement in all-around play. Offensively, defensively and goaltending, which Swedish born Emil Zetterquist has taken charge.
“Our goaltending has been very good, so we haven’t given up as much as maybe we were early on,” said Egan, whose team ranks third defensively in the NAHL’s Midwest Division with 47 goals allowed. “Overall, we found some urgency in our game and we found a few guys that are starting to find their way at this level.”
HOT GOALIE: Zetterquist takes a 4-2-1-1 record into tonight’s game against the Magicians. He is coming off back-to-back wins over first-place Brookings, and played especially well in the third period of the Chills’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Blizzard.
“He is an elite goaltender at this level, for sure,” Egan said of Zetterquist, who has a 2.32 goals-against average and has a .939 save percentage.
“You would like to think he will get even better, but we (coaches) feel very confident in him, the guys feel very confident in him, he feels confident. We are excited about what he can do for us moving forward.”
CHECKING THEIR EGOS: While the Chill have played well over the last two weeks, Egan and assistants Jeff Hannan and Ryan Ess, are making sure the team doesn’t get too full of themselves.
“Yes, we can see the confidence level in practice and from a coaching standpoint, you wonder, ‘Are we a little too confident?’ That is where we have to make sure we keep the guys in check and humble, as we still have a long ways to go.”
SZMUL HONORED: By sweeping Central Division-leading Brookings over the weekend, the Chill received some league-wide notice as rookie forward Connor Szmul as named the Midwest Star of the Week.
Szmul, a 5-foot-8, 150-pounder who is a native of Castle Rock, Colo., scored four points (3 goals, 1 assists) in the two-game sweep. Szmul had an assist in Friday night’s 5-4 shootout win, then cranked it up on Saturday with his first NAHL hat trick.
Szmul has six points on the season.