Hockey is a game so often determined by the little things; a power play here, a narrow offside decision there. Seemingly insignificant moments become routinely decisive in a sport otherwise littered with highlight-reel plays.
The Coulee Region Chill are no stranger to that logic, but they ended up on the wrong side of it Thursday night at Green Island Ice Arena, as the Austin Bruins’ opportunistic execution sparked a 5-3 comeback victory in front on an estimated crowd of 500.
An incredible save denied Coulee Region a 3-1 lead late in the second period, as Larry Jungwirth’s shot — taken just outside the crease in front of a gaping net — was miraculously stopped by Austin goaltender Alex Schilling. Just 22 seconds later, Austin’s Liam Thrawl equalized the game with 4:52 on the clock.
Then, at the tail end of the same stanza, Chill forward Taylor Trapp took a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as time expired, which gave the Bruins a power play to start the third period. Austin’s Michael Piehler later made that penalty hurt with a go-ahead goal after 95 seconds.
“That’s the beauty of our game, man,” Chill coach Ryan Egan said. “I thought it was a fantastic hockey game. I knew we were going to be in for a good test. I thought both teams played well, and it could have gone either way.
“Ultimately when I sit back and look on it, do I feel like we deserved to win? I do. I feel like we deserved to win that game, but it didn’t go our way tonight.”
Thanks in large part to the first-period heroics of rookie goaltender Todd Scott, the Chill built a 2-0 lead by the 11:08 mark of the second period, and proceeded to control the same stanza to the tune of a 22-8 shots advantage.
Jungwirth opened the scoring through Schilling’s five-hole at 16:52 of the first period. Coulee Region then doubled its lead through veteran forward Joey Sofo, who batted a flying puck out of the air for his team-best 13th goal of the season.
That’s when things began to unwind for the Chill.
“I thought we started a little slow at the beginning of the second period, but I thought puck possession was mostly ours, and we ended up winning the battle on special teams,” said Austin coach Kyle Grabowski, whose team successfully killed all six of Coulee Region’s power-play opportunities.
“We got one on the power play and we killed theirs. That’s a huge momentum swing right there.”
Tanner Default’s fourth goal of the year made it 2-1 for Austin. Less than four minutes later, Thrawl cleaned up the garbage with a rebound goal at the back post to tie the game.
At the time of Austin’s equalizer, Coulee Region had outshot the Bruins 15-4 in the second period.
“We didn’t get rewarded for our efforts in Period 2. No question about it,” Egan said. “Like I told the guys, that was honestly probably our best second period of the year, to be honest. We didn’t get rewarded for it, but that’s how the game goes.
“In the end, the power-play goal is the difference in the game.”
After Piehler provided that power-play goal in the third period, the Bruins added another at 7:28, with Piehler hitting the net again from the outer edge of the near circle to make it 4-2.
The Chill responded at 11:06 with a goal from newly acquired forward Simon Sigossor, his first of the season. But Austin held firm down the stretch, and tacked on an empty-netter inside the final 10 seconds to seal its comeback victory.
“They got a couple bounces that ended up in the back of our net, but I thought we could ride it into the third period,” Egan said. “It was unfortunate that we had to take that penalty going into the third period when they got that power-play goal. It changed a lot.”
Scott and Schilling both finished with 33 saves.
The Chill travel for a two-game series at Midwest Division rival Springfield, beginning with tonight’s opener at 7:05.