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Playoffs begin, Falcons in the ‘Hunt’

February 15, 2007

With the two victories over Stout last weekend, the UW-River Falls hockey team has secured the number one seed in the NCHA playoffs.

With that number one seed, the Falcons will have home ice advantage through all three rounds.

This weekend the Falcons take on the Lake Forest Foresters, who finished in last place with three points on the season. Both games start at 7:05 p.m. at Hunt Arena.

Lake Forest comes into this weekend’s matchup with the Falcons having gone winless in the conference during the regular season.

The team also averages just under two goals per game. Nonetheless, the Falcons can’t take a team like the Foresters lightly.

“To be honest with you, you have to prepare a little more because sometimes athletes have a tendency to set back,” Falcons goaltender and reigning NCHA Player of the Week A.J. Bucchino said. “Our team has done that in the past. But I think right now, myself and the team, I think we know we have to go hard because anything can happen.”

Although the Foresters are without a win in the conference, head coach Tony Fritz said he believes his team is built for an upset.

“We have what is necessary in the playoff situation,” Fritz said. “We have really good goaltending.”

The Foresters’ goaltending duties have been split between sophomore goalies Brandon Kohuch and Scott Campbell. Combined, they are giving up around four goals per game.

Fritz said Campbell will start Friday night and Kohuch will start on Saturday night.

“We’ve just got to shoot the puck, plain and simple,” Falcons forward Pat Borgestad said. “We went down there and ran into a hot goalie, and we know he’s going to be back up here.”

Borgestad was referring to the last time the Falcons took on the Foresters in Lake Forest, when UWRF barely scratched out a tie with Kohuch in net. The Foresters led 2-0 before the Falcons cut the lead in half with just 4:07 left in the game. The Falcons added an extra attacker and tied the game with 42 seconds left in regulation.

The Foresters also played well against the Falcons in the teams’ only meeting at Hunt Arena earlier this season. Although the Falcons won 3-1, the Foresters stayed strong, thanks to a spectacular game by Kohuch.

“They know they can play well with this team and we know we match up well for whatever reasons,” Fritz said. “We’ve always had good games with River Falls.”

The Falcons understand that the Foresters will try to use that as an advantage, but the team they put on the ice this weekend isn’t the same team Lake Forest saw at the end of January.

“That’s probably what their coach will tell them that ‘We tied these guys. We can play with these guys,’” Falcons captain T.J. Dahl said. “But we didn’t play well when we played down there. We’re going to come out a different team and we’re going to play hard all weekend.”

The format for the first round is always a source of confusion for fans. In the first round, the two teams play a best-of-two series. If the series is tied after the two games, there will be a 20-minute mini-game played on a fresh sheet of ice following the completion of the game on Saturday.

After the first round, the rest of the tournament is played out in single-elimination games on the home ice of the highest-seeded team.

One of the keys for the Falcons to advance could be the play of the power-play unit. Against Stout, UWRF went 4-7 with the man advantage, one of which was the game winner by Dustin Norman in overtime on Saturday night.

Coach Steve Freeman said the Falcons have added a few wrinkles to the power play in the past few weeks and they’re starting to get results.

“We’re getting a lot of open ice and a lot of good looks and a little bit more time to do some things,” Freeman said. “Obviously we have five pretty talented hockey players out there moving the puck around. If they get time, they’re going to get their share of goals.”

With Norman back from a concussion and with the return of defenseman Jim Jensen last weekend, the Falcons head into the weekend with a full, healthy roster.

“I’ve played with a lot of extremely good hockey players over the years I’ve been here,” senior forward Tyler Kostiuk said. “But I would say this year our team is very well-rounded, our depth is really there on this team.”

Perhaps the biggest key to victory for the Falcons is to stop worrying about who they are playing and focus solely on how they are playing.

“We don’t want to really worry about playing Lake Forest,” Freeman said. “We just want to keep our level of play up at a high level and keep our intensity level up.”