Coulee Region Chill coach Ryan Egan had been fighting it all season. After January, he stopped.
It was time to get real.
“You can’t take the good out of good players and force them to be different,” said Egan, who leads his team into the first round of the NAHL Midwest Division hockey playoffs tonight in Janesville, Wis.
Egan spent months searching for answers, forcing his players into a system that just wasn’t working. And after two horrid months of December and January — in which the Chill collected just 10 out of a possible 40 points — it was time to accept a difficult reality, one from which the Chill had been running all season.
Just face it, boys. Most nights, you’re givin’ up about 35-40 shots.
“That’s just our M.O.,” Egan said. “For whatever reason, we seem to give up 35-plus every single game.”
That, of course, isn’t ideal, but acceptance of that reality has ironically helped the Chill in recent weeks.
“We’ve made some structure changes within our defensive zone, where I think we’re giving up fewer Grade-A chances, but we’re still giving up shots,” Egan said.
And plenty of goals, too.
But the Chill have found a way to counter their frequent concessions, and that hasn’t involved a more conservative approach. Quite the contrary.
On offense, they’re letting their players loose, throwing more men forward than ever before.
“We just kind of let them go a little bit,” Egan said. “Now, there’s some good and bad with that. It’s a high-risk, high-reward kind of approach, but that’s just what we are. We’re high-risk, high-reward.”
Despite their recent hot streak, the Chill — particularly their defensemen and goaltenders — aren’t happy with giving up three or more goals per game, which they’ve done in eight straight and 17 of their last 23. They also don’t want to concede 35 shots per night, which they’ve done in 15 of their last 20.
But when those numbers accompany the type of scoring Coulee Region has exhibited over the last two months, they become much more manageable.
Meet the Chill, ladies and gentlemen, your neighborhood slugfest specialists; the Kardiac Kids of the Coulee Region. They’ve scored a whopping 220 goals this season, good for the league’s third-highest scoring output. But they’ve also allowed 220, good for fourth-worst.
It ain’t pretty at times. But it works for them.
“We’re going to give up some pucks, but we’re going to score some goals, too,” Egan said.
The Chill have done plenty of the latter over the past two months.
Since Feb. 3, the Chill have scored 100 goals, accounting for more than 45 percent of their season total across the final 38 percent of their campaign. No other team has scored more than 82 over the same span.
Furthermore, the Chill are averaging 4.35 goals per game since the start of February, while just one other team — the New Jersey Titans, the league’s highest-scoring team — is averaging more than 3.9.
With that type of production, the Chill can afford to concede a few extra goals here and there. They’ve proven that with their recent play.
Of the 23 games the Chill have played since Feb. 3, they’ve given up three or more goals 19 times, boasting a 10-9 record in such games. They’ve also given up four or more goals on 12 occasions over the same span, of which they’ve won a respectable five.
Most nights, Chill games become a foot race. Last one to four goals — or five, or six, or seven, or more — is a rotten egg.
And that’s the way they like it.
“We have a high-powered offense,” said Chill veteran Steven Quagliata, the NAHL’s Defenseman of the Month. “We have a lot of kids on this team that can score goals, and we have a lot of kids on this team that can set up goals. I don’t think we ever really feel out of a game if we do give up a few goals and we get down.
“We definitely feel strong offensively, and we’re a confident team right now.”