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Falcons narrowly defeat No. 1 St. Norbert, improve to 9-1

December 7, 2006

The UW-River Falls men’s hockey team entered the weekend ranked sixth in the country in Div. III men’s hockey, but following two weekend wins over unranked Lake Forest and No. 1 ranked St. Norbert, the polls were bound to be different this week.

On this week’s USCHO Poll, released on Tuesday, the Falcons moved up two spots to No. 4 in the rankings. St. Norbert fell to No. 3, just one place ahead of UWRF.

While the Falcon players and coaching staff admit that they don’t follow the rankings too much right now, they do appreciate the recognition.

“The polls are more for the fans,” head coach Steve Freeman said.

Freeman went on to talk about the NCHA poll, which will come out in the middle of January. In this poll, the teams are ranked on five different criteria and playoff bids are determined using these rankings. Freeman said that is the one thing the Falcon squad will truly be focusing on.

On Dec. 2, the Falcons took on St. Norbert, a tough opponent every season, with this match-up being no exception.

In the first period, junior Jim Henkemeyer scored a power-play goal, with Jim Jensen and Tyler Kostiuk assisting to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead. St. Norbert’s Marc Belanger scored the tying goal about halfway through the period and the game would remain tied 1-1 until the third period.

At 8:23 of the final period, Green Knights’ Lonny Forrester gave the team its first lead of the game, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Falcons down. Sophomore Derek Hansberry tied the game up with a goal of his own.

“It was one of the biggest goals I’ve scored in a long time,” Hansberry said.

But the Falcons weren’t finished yet. Henkemeyer lit the lamp one more time to give the Falcons the 3-2 lead with 3:42 left in the game. The Falcons held on and goaltender AJ Bucchino was called on to make a number of saves to solidify the Falcons’ victory. Bucchino finished the game with 36 saves, winning his ninth game of the season in net.

“I took it as another day,” Bucchino said of the St. Norbert game. “I tried to stay calm and relaxed. The puck seemed to keep hitting me.”

Going into the game, players on both sides were anticipating an intense game.

“Both of us had good records,” Henkemeyer said. “We knew it would be a good game and we outworked them in the third.”

While St. Norbert came in with a higher ranking, the Falcons didn’t think the Green Knights were a team they couldn’t beat.

“They weren’t as good as they were last year,” Hansberry said. “But we definitely have some areas we could improve on. They were pretty solid in the first two periods.”

Freeman said St. Norbert has three defensemen and a goaltender who have the opportunity to be All-Americans, but the Falcons played well.

“They’re very talented and bring a lot of speed and toughness,” Freeman said. “The difference really was special teams.”

The home ice advantage was also on the Falcons’ side Saturday night.

“The crowd was instrumental,” Freeman said. “They got right back into it after St. Norbert scored. It’s like having an extra player on the ice.”

Bucchino was very pleased with the entire team’s efforts on Saturday night.

“It was our hardest working game all year,” Bucchino said.

Following his weekend efforts, Henkemeyer was named NCHA and WIAC Player of the Week.

“Jim’s a solid player,” Hansberry said. “He plays well on both sides of the ice.”

On Friday night, the Falcons hosted NCHA competitor Lake Forest and skated to a 3-1 victory over the visiting Foresters. The two teams skated through a scoreless first period before TJ Dahl gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead. Dahl recorded a point for the ninth consecutive game, while a Forester was serving a two-minute penalty for diving. Jensen and Kostiuk also scored in the second period to give the Falcons a 3-0 lead entering the third.

Lake Forest’s Tyler Canal broke the shutout and pulled the Foresters to within 3-1. That was where the scoring would end, giving the Falcons momentum for the Saturday night game against St. Norbert.

“We had a 3-0 lead and we kind of let off the gas,” Freeman said of the Lake Forest game.

The Falcons are on the road Friday and Saturday for two of the team’s toughest road tests of the season. They play St. Scholastica on Friday and UW-Superior on Saturday. The games are set to begin at 7:05 and 8 p.m., respectively.

Henkemeyer knows that the road trip will be tough for the Falcons. He said he and his teammates will have to play physical and come out hitting. Both teams have also had a good season up to this point and neither one can be taken lightly.

St. Superior is currently ranked fifth in the country.

Scholastica has been gradually improving over the past few years and will surely give the Falcons some competition for the win.

These are the final two conference games for the Falcons before the break.

The Falcons finish up the first half of the season on Tuesday, with a home game against St. Mary’s.

The game is scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m. at Hunt Arena.

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