With its players reporting this weekend, the Coulee Region Chill already knows what kind of a team it wants to ice this season, its first in its new digs in Onalaska, Wis.
Playing the last five years in Mason City, Iowa, as the North Iowa Outlaws, the team relocated after last season and made the move north.
Head coach Garrett Strot also made the move and is taking it all in one step at a time.
“Anytime you move it presents its challenges, but we’re slowly but surely settling into our new home,” said Strot. “I’m looking forward to this weekend, because I haven’t been to the city all that much this summer.”
One item Strot won’t have to worry so much about is his core of returning players. He said with six forwards, three defensemen and a goalie all back, “that’s nice to have.”
“Last year, we only had four players return and only one played a lot the year before, so it was like a whole new team,” noted Strot. “We weren’t a fast team last year, but this year, we went after speed at all of our tryout camps. I think the kids have been impressed at what we’re going for this year in terms of being a faster team.”
In comparing last season at this time to now, Strot remarked that the competition was greater this go-round.
“I think the camps were better than last year,” said Strot. “We had kids coming from all over, even Florida, California and Texas. I think with more teams this season, that just gives more kids the opportunity to play at this level and that’s never a bad thing.”
With divisional realignment taking place earlier this summer, the Chill will see some familiar teams in the Central Division, as well as new teams in Aberdeen, S.D., and Austin, Minn.
“Our divisional games will be tough, but so will all games in general,” said Strot. “It’s hard to tell from year to year who the top teams are because of the player turnover, but our division should be one of the toughest divisions, if not the toughest."
And the appeal of the league is at its best given the fact more and more players are graduating from NAHL teams and stepping right in with Division I college programs.
“The NCAA definitely sees our league as a viable Division I recruiting league,” said Strot. “And I think, too, you see a lot of our players going to college and staying all four years. The NAHL has a lot of great coaches and every year, the talent level among the players goes up. This league is a very talented and more and more D-I coaches are taking note.”
With camps complete, it’s time to start preparing for the annual league showcase in Blaine, Minn. Strot said he’ll use the event to see what work needs to be done as the Chill enter league play the weekend after.
“The showcase comes quick; we play four games in four days,” Strot said. “It’s a good time to be with the players and it’s a good time to get some games under our belts and see where we are.”