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‘Tucker’ed out: Falcons lose 2-1 in semis

March 1, 2007

Sophomore forward A.J. Tucker scored twice and goaltender Tyler Johnson stopped 25 shots as the St. Scholastica Saints defeated the UW-River Falls Falcons 2-1 on Saturday night.

The first goal of the game went to the Saints. On the team’s third power play of the first period, Tucker had the puck at the far post. Falcon’s goaltender A.J. Bucchino seemingly had the post shut off, but Tucker found a hole to sneak it by him just 12 seconds into the power play.

“I was on the post, and it was kind of a quick bang-bang play,” Bucchino said. “Maybe if I would have stood up, I could have had it. But it was a quick release, a quick pass and a onetimer. I just went down to react, and he just snuck it into a spot.”

The remainder of the first period was scoreless. Tucker added his second goal of the game 4:51 into the second period, putting the Saints up 2-0.
The Falcons offense looked sluggish for most of the game. Forward Tyler Kostiuk looked to change that as he charged up the right wing with the puck before being taken down by a Saints defenseman.

On the ensuing penalty shot, Kostiuk skated in on Johnson, went to his forehand and then to the backhand before flipping the puck past Johnson to put the Falcons on the board 6:30 into the second period.

“I just went in on the goalie really slow, and he just bit on one of the fakes,” Kostiuk said. “It wasn’t anything real special.”

The Falcons offense looked re-energized, drawing two penalties just moments after cutting the St. Scholastica lead in half. With the two-man advantage, the Falcons moved in close and had a few scoring chances, but big saves by Johnson and a few mistakes by the Falcons kept the game at 2-1.

The Falcons bombarded the Saints net with shots throughout the final period and a half, but time continued to dwindle. With just 3:26 left in the game, Saints forward Matt Saler got called for hooking, putting the Falcons on the power play. Once again, the St. Scholastica penalty kill stood strong, even drawing a crosscheck on Falcons forward Dustin Norman. The penalty on Norman came with just 2:04 left to play in regulation, which all but closed the door on the Falcons’ comeback attempt. Norman watched the tape and said that the referees made the right call.

“We have no control, but that’s why we have refs in our league; so we have the game played in a good way,” Norman said. “It was just disappointing that I got the penalty.”
Bucchino was pulled with 36 seconds left, just to return action to 5-on-5. With no room for error, the top line could not produce the game-tying goal before time expired.
“We played a decent game, we just didn’t take advantage of some of the opportunities we had,” Falcons head coach Steve Freeman said. “St. Scholastica played very well. They played really well defensively. They really bottled up the neutral zone. We had a lot of trouble breaking the puck out.”

Coming off a weekend against Lake Forest where he went large stretches without facing a shot, Bucchino faced consistent pressure from the St. Scholastica. The Saints distributed shots evenly throughout the game, totaling 26 shots in the game.

The Falcons managed 25 shots on Johnson, but the only one he let by was the penalty shot.

“Later on in the game, we put a lot more pressure on [Johnson],” Kostiuk said. “But he made some big saves. We didn’t get a whole lot of shots like we usually do in every other game, but the goalie made a lot of big saves on our shots.”

With the victory, the Saints will travel to St. Norbert to play in the championship game Saturday night at the Cornerstone Community Center.

The key to victory the last few weekends for the Falcons has been the advantage on the powerplay. On Saturday, the unit couldn’t get anything past Johnson and the Saints. The Saints played a high-pressured penalty kill, including a forechecker who caused a lot of problems and ate up a lot of clock.

The Saints also blocked a lot of shots at the blue line. The Falcons, who had converted on nine of the teams last 22 power play attempts coming into the weekend, were 0-5 on Saturday night.

“We had a lot of chances on the power play. We just couldn’t bury the puck,” Norman said. “There were a couple chances there where we could have made a difference in the game, but it just didn’t go our way.”

The Saints came into the game riding high off of an upset over UW-Superior the weekend before. The Falcons were coming off a route of the Lake Forest Foresters. Bucchino said he doesn’t think that angle played much into the outcome.

“I think when they beat us a couple of weeks ago, I think we put that behind us and went in knowing we could beat them,” Bucchino said. “But we didn’t put the effort there to beat them. I think we just kind of overlooked the game and looked into the future too much, and we didn’t go out as hard as we should have.”

The future for the Falcons is now in the hands of the NCAA and a possible at-large bid in the national tournament. The team has been practicing all week in preparation, but will not know its fate until Sunday. Ranked second in the West, the Falcons definitely have the résumé to earn an at-large bid.

“We’re pretty confident that things are going to work out well and that we’ll get another opportunity,” Freeman said. “That’s really the reward from having a real strong regular season.”

The Falcons are trying to put the semifinal loss behind them and enjoy the rest of the season, whether they make the NCAA tournament or not.

“I’m really not disappointed at all,” Kostiuk said. “We’ve had a tremendous season, but I’m really enjoying having the second chance to come back and play.”