I’ll be the first to admit it. Over the first month of the NAHL season, my expectations for the Coulee Region Chill dipped significantly.
It wasn’t without reason, to be frank.
Despite a 2-2 showing at the NAHL Showcase — not bad, but not great — the Chill limped through Week 1 with the league’s worst goals-against average (4.5). Those defensive woes later continued throughout the first month of the season, as poor goaltending and inconsistency at the back threatened to keep Coulee Region pinned at the bottom half of the Midwest Division standings — where it remained for the first six weeks of the year. Sure, they were scoring goals. But they were also allowing far too many, and you can’t win championships that way.
The month of September brought that reality home in a big way.
But in October, the Chill finally took that reality to heart. And did something about it.
Don’t believe me? Believe the numbers instead.
Coulee Region is suddenly garnering contender status as the hottest team in the Midwest Division. With an 8-1-1 record over its last 10 games, a mark bested by just two other teams — Aston and Lone Star, both of which are 9-1 over the same stretch — in the league, the Chill have catapulted themselves into third place in the division standings. They’ve also positioned themselves within striking distance of first, as they trail pace-setter Janesville by four points. with two games still in hand.
Since Oct. 1, Coulee Region ranks near the top of the league at both ends of the ice.
Goal scoring continues to be an area of strength for the Chill, as evidenced by their per-game average of 4.1 since the end of September. But that’s nothing new. The Chill have showcased their ability to score since Day 1, yet it has still taken them this long to pose a legitimate threat — thanks, in large part, to their inconsistency at the back.
Thankfully for the Chill, they’ve stepped it up on defense.
The results suggest as much. Coulee Region is leaking an average of 2.9 goals per game since the beginning of October, good for seventh in the league — and a far cry from its early-season failure at the back end. Again, not earth-shattering stuff — league-leading Aston has allowed just 14 goals in its last 10 games — but the Chill have already proven their ability to stave off shaky defense with dazzling offensive performances.
Now, eliminate that shakiness on defense, and what do you have?
You have a legitimate contender.
The presence of newly acquired defenseman Marshal Plunkett will certainly help in that pursuit. A West Salem native, Plunkett garnered NAHL Defenseman of the Month honors last week, as a pair of three-point weekends — along with Midwest Division Star of the Week honors on Oct. 10 — helped the Chill to a 6-1-1 record in October.
And let’s not forget the recent contributions of 16-year-old goaltender Todd Scott, who won each of his first three NAHL starts with relative ease, and needed just two weekends to be included among October’s Goaltender of the Month voting.
If players like Plunkett and Scott continue to perform — not to mention the recent performances of first-year defenseman Steven Qualigliata, this week’s Midwest Division Star of the Week — the Chill can be a very dangerous team, indeed. They could pass the second-place Minnesota Magicians with a win Friday night — in a game that begins at 7 p.m. at Green Island Ice Arena — and could further stake their claim for first place in the Midwest with more consistency this month, as four of their next five games are at home.
Time to make moves, boys.
The Chill have been great over the past five weeks, but so what? They’ve only just begun playing the kind of hockey they expected of themselves. They knew they could compete with anyone.
Now it’s time to take the next step. Now it’s time to make a statement.
Now it’s time for Coulee Region to establish itself as a true NAHL contender.