High expectations have been placed on the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team for this season by both themselves and outsiders.
The Falcons were picked to win the 11-team Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) in the NCHA coaches’ poll. They also received six of a possible 11 first-place votes.
Last year, the Falcons finished first in both the NCHA regular season and the NCHA playoff tournament, the O’Brien Cup.
The team has also been ranked No. 6 in the nation by United States College Hockey Online. Head coach Joe Cranston said that his team does not get caught up in all of the hype.
“We deal with it every day. We don’t come out and play like we expect to win, we play like underdogs,” said Cranston.
However, he did say that the team has set lofty goals for themselves going into the season.
“Always just work hard, outwork our opponents day in and day out. If we manage to do that, our goals are to win our league and have a chance to play in the NCAA tournament five years in a row.”
Working hard was one of the factors that senior defender Amanda Ryder said would be critical to the team’s success this year.
“We just have to make sure that we’re working hard on and off the ice,” said Ryder. She also mentioned team chemistry as an important issue. “One of things to focus on is just to try to get everybody on the same page,” said Ryder. “I don’t think that will be that big of a factor, we’ve always had good team chemistry in the past.”
The Falcons will be breaking in new starting goalies this year after Melissa Deardorff started the majority of games in the net last year in her senior season.
Junior Ashley Kuechle started nine games last season making her the most experienced goalie on the roster. The other two goalies on the team are both freshmen.
Cranston said he is not afraid to start freshmen in the net.
“We have in the past. Almost every year we’ve had a freshman in the rotation playing,” said Cranston. “My best two goalies will probably split every weekend.” The past three years UWRF has ended its season the same way: with a loss to Gustavus Adolphus in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Cranston, now in his 14th season as UWRF head coach, said that the team has moved on from the postseason loss.
“We just put it out of sight. Our season ended the past three years the same way,” said Cranston. “Gustavus is a good team, not too many teams beat them. It’s not a reflection on our program that we didn’t beat them.”
The Falcons have made the NCAA tournament and won at least 20 games each of the past four years.
Ryder said that she hopes for more of the same this year.
“We hope to make it back to the conference tournament again and repeat what we did last year and try to advance to the national tournament,” said Ryder.
The Falcons begin their season with two home games against Adrian College in Hunt Arena on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3.
Friday night the puck is set to drop at 7:05 p.m. and Saturday afternoon is set for 2:05 p.m.