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Coaching duo makes history with 200th win

November 2, 2006

UW-River Falls head men’s hockey coach Steve Freeman made history Saturday night at Hunt Arena.

The historical landmark has been 10 years in the making. In the final three games of last season, all Freeman needed was one win to hit the 200 wins mark. The Falcons fell to the UW-Stout Blue Devils in three straight games to end the season, stalling Freeman’s coaching record at 199 career victories.

In the season opener Friday night against UW-Eau Claire, Freeman and assistant Robert Ritzer were looking again to win their 200th game. With the Falcons falling to the Blugolds 3-2, celebration would have to wait.

On Saturday night, the Falcons put the previous night’s loss behind them and took it to Lawrence University. Dominating the game with 61 shots on net, the Falcons went on to win the game 6-4, giving the coaching duo their 200th win.

“It’s an honor, the ceremony itself with the fans sticking around to cheer and the congratulations from the players. It meant a lot to me,” Freeman said. “With 200 wins in just over 10 years, the thanks have to go out to the players.”

Freeman went on to comment on how much help Ritzer had been over the course of the last 10 years. As assistant coach, he did a great deal of recruiting and was obviously a great help on the ice.

“It’s certainly a team award,” Freeman said.

Even though the Falcons lost the season opening game against UW-Eau Claire, the team still has high spirits about the remainder of the season.

“We have a lot of potential to be a great hockey team,” sophomore Devin Underwood said. “We get along really well.”

During the Friday night game, the Falcons had their opportunities, but were still a little bit flat on the ice.

“I think we might have come in a little unprepared,” Underwood said. “The bounces just didn’t go our way.”

For experienced returning players, losing the opener was sort of a surprise.

“I think Friday night was kind of an eye-opener,” junior TJ Dahl said. “Every team can come out and beat us, and to tell you the truth everybody wants to beat us because we’re known as one of the better teams.”

Friday night was the first chance for a number of the new members of the Falcon squad to make their debut.

In his first game as a Falcon, freshman Mitch Kerns got a better feel for the college ranks, scoring one of the two goals against the Blugolds.

“It was a little bit faster and more physical than juniors,” Kerns said. “I was nervous the first game.”

On Saturday night, Freeman and Ritzer changed the lineup around a bit to get some of the new members some playing time.

“Coach wants to get a look at some of the young guys,” said Underwood, who sat out Saturday. “It helps to know that playing hockey is a privilege and not a right.”

Junior AJ Bucchino started in goal on Friday night, and freshman Tony Stoehr got his first taste of action in the net on Saturday. Starting out a little shaky in the first period, Stoehr responded to keep the Falcons in the game until the third period when Bucchino relieved him. With Bucchino securing the win, Stoehr was able to record his first victory as a Falcon goalie.

The 6-4 victory against Lawrence University wasn’t the blowout that was expected, but it was an all around good effort by the Falcons.

In the first victory of the season, UWRF dominated the ice, attempting over 100 total shots on goal during the game.

“We responded on Saturday and showed a great effort throughout,” Dahl said.

Dahl and senior Jared Sailer are the captains of this year’s squad, and Bucchino is the assistant captain. Dahl said he believes that he and his two teammates will be a solid core of captains.

“I feel very honored,” Dahl said of being named captain. “To be a junior and to step up and take charge, I’m always open.”

This season the Falcons are looking to make it all the way to the Div. III National Championship.

“I love the team chemistry,” Dahl said. “That’s what it takes to build a championship.”

The Falcons will be on the road once this weekend against Gustavus on Friday for a 7:05 p.m. showdown.

River Falls will return home Saturday night for a 7:05 p.m. matchup against another Minnesota opponent, St. Olaf.