Chill, Wilderness Prepare For Physical Battle

-David Griswold, La Crosse Tribune The teams combined for 216 penalty minutes on 69 infractions in their final two games. There were nine double minors, two majors, six 10-minute misconducts and three game misconducts in a span of two days at Green Island Ice Arena. There’s a mutual respect between the Coulee Region Chill and the Minnesota Wilderness — as there is with every team in the NAHL — but there’s plenty of turmoil to go along with it. “It’s going to be a battle,” Chill defenseman Sean Lang said about the Chill’s opening-round matchup with the Wilderness. “Guys are going to try to take off people’s heads and we’re going to back each other up. So, it’s going to be a hard battle but we’ll fight through it.” The Chill (28-23-9) are making their first postseason appearance since 2012, while the Wilderness, who are in their second season in the NAHL, will be looking to escape the first round after being bounced by Wenatchee in the opening round last year. Much like the Chill, however, the Wilderness won’t need any extra incentive when the puck drops Friday in Cloquet, Minn. The Chill and Wilderness have a physical history. In the eight games the two teams have played this season, the Chill are averaging 23 minutes in the penalty box — seven minutes higher than their season average — while the Wilderness are spending 27.6 minutes per game serving penalties. The Wilderness were the most penalized team in the Midwest Division, but their average climbed nearly 10 minutes when they’ve faced off against the Chill. “That (final) weekend was kind of a tune-up for the playoffs,” said Chill defenseman Brogan Rafferty, who had 14 penalty minutes in the final two games. “I’m pretty excited about it.” When two teams who already know their postseason fate reach the closing stages of their regular-season schedule, it’s not unusual for a game to get a little more chippy. In this case, it added a little fuel to an already blazing fire. “When you play a team that many times at the end of the season, it’s bound to get a little heated,” Chill coach AJ Degenhardt said. “I think that was part of their game plan. I think on Saturday, they took us off of our game by getting us distracted and into some stuff that we probably shouldn’t have, but they’re a tough team, and it will be a tough matchup for us.” The Wilderness have had the Chill’s number this season, winning seven of the eight games they’ve played. But Coulee Region’s win came in Cloquet, Minn., where the first two games, and possibly the final game, of the five-game series will be played. “That was exactly what we needed going into playoffs,” Degenhardt said. “If you look at their roster, most of those guys have played a playoff game in this league last season, but if you look at our roster, I think we’ve got maybe two guys who have played a playoff hockey game in juniors. “It’s a big change. They can watch the NHL and see the difference there, but until you’re in it, I don’t think you really understand what it’s all about.” Their final two games with the Wilderness may have given them a good indication. “The intensity level climbs and I think it was good for us to see that last weekend,” Degenhardt said. “They were hard-hitting, physical, playoff-style hockey games.” NOTES: The Chill will be playing without captain Eddie Matsushima who will likely miss the entire postseason with a lower-body injury he suffered last weekend against the Wilderness. Matsushima, who is in his third season with the Chill, is in his final season of eligibility in the NAHL.