Familiar phrases are often recycled by coaches.
When you’re winning, it’s: “We’re confident, but we have to stay focused.” When you’re losing, it’s: “We’re struggling, and we have to be more accountable.”
The Coulee Region Chill posted a combined 4-13 record in December and January. Once a fixture of the Midwest Division title conversation, they’re now languishing at the perimeter of the postseason picture.
Ryan Egan needed 12 full seconds to attempt his first swing at an answer, even with a wealth of familiar phrases at his disposal.
“Boy, that’s a tough question,” said Egan, Coulee Region’s first-year coach.
Don’t take too long, coach. Two-thirds of the season is already gone, and your team is on the outside looking in.
“I think we got off to a quick start. We were feeling really good about ourselves. And then, everything seemed like it was an uphill battle for us,” said Egan, whose team, despite having four games in hand, is currently five points behind Fairbanks for the division’s final playoff spot.
“Defensively, we haven’t been great. And we weren’t scoring the goals that we needed to at times. We were going through some adversity with the roster and some different things there, too, but we just couldn’t seem to find a way to dig ourselves out of that hole.”
Fortunately for Coulee Region, the hole in which it currently finds itself isn’t insurmountable.
Sure, the Chill just went 11 weeks without winning consecutive games — a streak mercifully put to rest on Friday — and haven’t won three straight since early November.
But they’ve been in this situation before. Last season, a pre-Christmas slump dropped Coulee Region — which eventually claimed its third consecutive playoff berth in franchise history — below the .500 mark and out of the postseason picture.
Egan is confident his Chill can realize a similar turnaround.
“I think we all feel like we can get hot,” Egan said.
But they’ve yet to show any kind of consistency, particularly on defense.
Take Saturday night, for example. After putting six goals past the Jets on Friday, the Chill brought a 2-0 lead into the third period the following night, in Janesville. From the depths of a two-month slump, Coulee Region was 20 minutes from sweeping arguably the NAHL’s best team.
Then the wheels came off. Janesville — the league’s highest scoring team, to be fair — buried four goals in the final 13:49.
Unfortunately for Coulee Region, that kind of defensive meltdown isn’t new. The Chill are giving up 3.84 goals per game — good for worst in the Midwest Division — and have conceded at least four goals in 49 percent of their games this year.
If postseason hockey is their ambition, those numbers have to improve dramatically.
“I like what I see moving forward, but we definitely have to be better in our own end,” Egan said.