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24 teams in 24 days: Coulee Region Chill

August 26, 2013
The 24 Teams in 24 Days series features a look at all 24 teams in the NAHL for the 2013-14 season, with a new team being highlighted daily, leading all the way up until the start of the regular season on Friday, September 13th as eight NAHL teams take to the ice on Opening Night.  24 in 24 will go in-depth into each NAHL team and will include interviews with all 24 head coaches in the NAHL, as they provide fans with their expectations and outlook for the 2013-14 season, including taking a look at their roster and their strengths as a team.  It will also take a look back on the 2012-13 season and how each team fared and what they accomplished.  Best of all, 24 in 24 is done to provide the fans of the NAHL with an inside look at their favorite team and what to expect.
Coulee Region Chill
Head Coach: AJ Degenhardt
2012-13 record: 16-39-5, 37 pts. (6th in the Central Division)
2012-13 leading scorer: Mac Jansen (60 GP, 32G, 25A, 57 Pts, -5)
2013 Playoffs: Did not qualify
2013-14 Division: Midwest
First regular season game: Wednesday, September 18th vs. Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, 1:15pm
Home opener: Friday, October 18th vs. Janesville Jets, 7:00pm
2012-13 wasn’t the type of year the Coulee Region Chill had hoped for.  To begin the season, confidence was high under then new head coach John Hamre, but as the season began the wins were few and far between.  After posting only three wins in their first 18 games and eight wins the first half the season, AJ Degenhardt took over as head coach in early January.  Although the Chill would eventually miss out on the playoffs, there was plenty to be optimistic about. 
Forward Mac Jansen recorded 32 goals, which ranked tied for 3rd in the NAHL last season. The 32 goals also represented roughly 20% of all of the Chill’s goals last season. Despite having a 9-14-2 record goaltender Black Cates posted a 91.6% save percentage last season, which ranked in the Top 15 in the NAHL. Eight players made NCAA commitments throughout the season and the Chill also had their best crowd of the season during their final home game, setting the stage for some things to come in 2013-14. 
Degenhardt was announced as the full-time coach following the end of the regular season, which was a big vote of confidence in his ability to guide the team going forward. “We knew AJ was the right person to take this team to the next level and it was important to give him the opportunity to build his own roster while providing our team with continuity,” said Chill owner Michelle Bryant. “He earned the respect of the players and they’re excited to return and play for him next season.”
Degenhardt echoed the sentiments of being excited to return. “I feel I can relate really well to the players and I think there was a lot of mutual respect built up in the few months that I was able to lead the team,” said Degenhardt. “We saw the competition level of the players grow throughout the season, so that gave us a lot of optimism heading into the off-season as we tried to build a team.”
Degenhardt said that the goals for the 2013-14 season are very realistic for this new group of players. “We want at least a .500 record or better and make the playoffs. If we can accomplish those two things, then we can worry about playoff success and thinking about something like the Robertson Cup,” said Degenhardt. “I think we all look at our new division and have a lot of excitement regarding it because of the variety and teams it is has in it. You have three very-well established teams out West and the two new clubs in Minnesota, so we are eager to see how we match-up and how we will enjoy facing some new competition.”
The building blocks for the 2013-14 Chill started on defense.  “We had some very talented defensemen last year, but we weren’t very deep, and then we lost a host of guys over the summer, so it really made us focus our efforts on getting some guys who could come in and produce for us this season,” said Degenhardt. “We used our draft to get a few of those guys and we really feel good about the dozen or so that will start training camp with us. Any one of them can play at this level, it is just a matter of finding out who.”
Jansen leads the group of returning group of players and hopes he can have a similar season as last year, when he was in the top three in league scoring. Cam Bleck also returns, but this time with a much more important role according to Degenhardt. Other veteran forwards the Chill will look to are Eddie Matsushima and James McGing. “I think all these guys with the exception of Jansen, they all played in supportive roles last season, but this year they are the guys we will look to for primary scoring, so their roles will change, but I think they have the talent and experience to meet that challenge,” said Degenhardt.
Another key veteran that will return is goaltender Blake Cates.  The 19-year-old from Stillwater, Minnesota had a great season between the pipes last year, all things considered, and has the size that NCAA coaches like. “Blake had a good year last season, but was hurt in late January and out for the remainder of our season. He brings the necessary experience and mentality to give us a chance to win hockey games,” said Degenhardt. “This is a big year for him because not only is he going to get the chance to play as an every day starter, but he has a lot of college interest right now.”
As for the new faces on the team, those that will make up the blueline are the first that come to Degenhardt’s mind of those that they will look to for immediate production. The Chill’s first round draft pick in the NAHL Draft this past summer, Jake Zeleznikar from Hermantown High School in Minnesota, is one that has stuck out to Degenhardt. “He has really good size and can move the puck well, and is a solid all-around defenseman.” Degenhardt also said that Curtis Simonson is another defenseman with good size that will provide some new skill and strength on the blueline.
It appears Degenhardt has the Chill headed in the right direction, and the combination of a few key veterans along with a host of fresh and new faces is just what the team needs to have themselves a winning season and have success in the new-look Midwest Division. If Degenhardt and the Chill can continue the building blocks from the end of the last season, that should translate into some more wins and a shot to be one of the top four teams in the division at the end of the season.
Next up in the 24 in 24 series: Fairbanks Ice Dogs
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