Preseason Postcard: Minnesota Looks to Build on First Championship Weekend Appearance

April 12, 2024
By Evan Lepler

They were seconds away from a semifinal victory over Salt Lake, painfully close to an epic upset on their home field in front of thousands of fired up fans.

Yet even after Joel Clutton’s miraculous moment, the Shred’s overtime triumph, and a precious opportunity lost, the Minnesota Wind Chill still admirably found a balance between devastation and continued belief.

“It’s hard to look upon that weekend with sour regards,” said Wind Chill Coach Ben Feldman. “It think it was such a great weekend for our team. We always want to win, but we have a long-term vision in mind. We want continual progress, and that was a huge hurdle.”

With impressive perspective, the Wind Chill recognize that the entire experience offered value, and they maintain a fervent hope that their first crack at Championship Weekend won’t be their last.

“We talk about the goal of winning a championship; it’s hard for a team to be like ‘oh, we want to win a UFA championship,’ when you haven’t even gotten to the final four,” said Feldman. “I think, now that we’ve achieved that level and we have higher expectations for ourselves, it changes the floor expectation of our team. That’s been encouraging. I think our fans are probably pretty hungry too…They’re going to have our back more than ever, we hope, wanting us to attain that success again.”

Heading into 2024, the Wind Chill roster contains coveted continuity. Aside from Abe Coffin, who’s taking a year off after an injury-plagued 2023, most other key contributors are back. Minnesota returns its top 10 scorers from a year ago, not to mention 17 of the 18 dudes who delivered at least four blocks.

In the noteworthy additions department, the Wind Chill signed two big-bodied veteran goal scorers in Greg Cousins, who caught 63 goals for Minnesota back in 2017 but hasn’t played in the league since ’18, and Matt Rehder, whose nuclear athleticism continues to be a scary weapon even as he creeps toward his mid-30s. As a commuting player who currently resides in St. Louis, Rehder is expected to play in eight regular season games.

On the younger side, the Wind Chill picked up Leo Sovell-Fernandez, who will make his UFA debut after previously representing USA on the U-24 level and earning D-III Defensive Player of the Year honors while at Middlebury College. Even younger than that, Minnesota also recently announced the signing of Thomas Shope, a just-turned-18-year-old prospect who, according to Feldman, has a decent chance of being on the Wind Chill’s active 20-man roster for their April 27 season opener at Pittsburgh.

But the anchor of this Minnesota squad is still the quality core of returning talent, players like Will Brandt, Josh Klane, and Quinn Snider on offense, Sam Berglund, Bret Bergmeier, and new Team USA block-hunter Dylan DeClerck on D. The versatile Bryan Vohnoutka is back as co-captain along with Brandon Matis, who begins his 11th UFA season, all of which have been with the Wind Chill. All of this skill and institutional memory should enable this team to remain in the mix atop the Central Division, contending for a second straight shot at Championship Weekend.

“I feel like everyone kind of got the taste now and is holding each other to higher expectations,” said Feldman. “Everyone is really engaged. We’re pumped for the season.”

The schedule begins with two tricky road games at Pittsburgh and Chicago, and the home slate includes a pair of daunting interdivisional challenges against Colorado and New York, both of which are designated as part of the UFA’s Super Series.

Skeptics might still question whether the Wind Chill truly belong in the conversation with the league’s best, but after six playoff appearances in the past seven years, not to mention the team’s first Championship Weekend trip, team leaders feel they are more equipped to contend than ever before.

“Going through that experience and having a tough loss also helps you grow as a team, as coaches and as players,” said Feldman. “It keeps you hungry for more.”