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New faces add depth to Falcon men

October 26, 2006

For UW-River Falls junior Jim Jensen, this season is the beginning of a new chapter in his hockey career.

Following a career in the junior hockey ranks and one season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (UMD) Jensen has made a seamless transition to the Falcon squad.

“[Duluth] brought me up there to fill more of a physical role,” Jensen said. “They saw me as the mean guy and a big hitter, but that’s not all I can do.”

Head coach Steve Freeman sees in Jensen what his coaches at UMD saw and quite possibly more.

“Jim really brings a physical presence to our team,” Freeman said. “He likes to play the body and is a big hitter. We’re expecting him to play a lot of minutes.”

Jensen said he is looking to become more of a total package hockey player here at River Falls and coming from a Div. I school, he has a chance to become a better all-around player.

“I expect more of myself and put a little more pressure on myself,” Jensen said. “I don’t see it as a step down. Now I have an opportunity to get more minutes. I’m going to be a better player.”

Jensen practically chose to come here after playing in about 13 games for UMD. He said he already knew around Christmas time last season that River Falls would be a good fit for him. When UMD didn’t renew his scholarship, he made the decision to come try playing for the Falcons.

He said that he knew a few of the guys here who told him that he would be a good addition to the team and after meeting with the coaches, he knew this is where he wanted to be.

Junior goaltender AJ Bucchino has known Jensen by association for about four years, he said.

“He’s a real asset to the line,” Bucchino said. “He’s been around. He was an established defenseman [in juniors]. He goes hard every time. He knows his position.”

Others have noticed the impact Jensen will have on their defense.

“Jimmy’s style of hockey is perfect for our team,” sophomore Dustin Norman said.

Jensen will be one of a number of new faces on the Falcon roster this season. The team has only two seniors and 10 freshmen.

“Our team in college eligibility seems young,” freshman Cory Baldwin said. “But we’re all a bit older and played in juniors.”

Freeman said that every player on his roster played at least one year in the juniors programs. He said he’s confident that their play in juniors will help them step in and play at the college level.

“There will be some growing pains until the freshmen adjust,” Freeman said. “I don’t think it will take a long time.”

Although the team hasn’t played any games yet, the players have still gotten to know each other and that will help the team throughout the entire season.

“The group of guys is absolutely great,” Baldwin said. “You walk into the locker room every day and everyone is happy to see each other.”

This season, Norman, is making a return to hockey after going close to nine months without playing competitively.

In January last year, Norman tore his ACL and had surgery in March, so he is itching to get out on the ice against players other than his teammates.

Last season the Falcons finished the season on a bit of a low note, falling to UW-Stout in the final three games of the season, including two in the playoffs.

“We had a good start and the middle of the season was good,” Norman said. “The end of the year was disappointing with three losses. That put a damper on the morale.”

They finished the season with an overall record of 17-7-3. UWRF was 9-4-1 in the NCHA and 6-1-1 in WIAC games, finishing first in the conference.

Bucchino will return as the top goaltender and the Falcons will also return their top scorer, sophomore Derek Hansberry.

Hansberry finished the season with 33 points. He had 18 goals and 15 assists.

This season, good things are expected to happen all across the ice for the Falcons, besides the addition of Jensen.

“This year, coach brought in depth,” Norman said. “It will make the team a lot more well-rounded.”

Freeman said early on he has noticed the team is more competitive with each other in practice, which will make for a healthy competitive team throughout the season.

“Offensively, you need to have that talent and skill,” Freeman said. “The players add to our game and added some grit. They’re tougher and more physical than last year. Hopefully once they mesh we can really do well.”

Returning players are looking for ways to improve their game.

“I’m concentrating on every shot. Shot by shot. Period by period,” Bucchino said. “It’s a short season. One game could cost you the playoffs.”

The Falcons play UW-Eau Claire and Lawrence University on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Both games are scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m. at Hunt Arena.

Athletes and coaches are looking forward to a full student section this weekend.

“They told me about it,” Jensen said of the student support. “I got a good idea, but I’m just going to wait and see.”