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UWRF hockey brings in 16 new recruits

October 16, 2008

In his 13th season as UW-River Falls’ men’s hockey coach, Steve Freeman has had plenty of success with the past five years resulting in WIAC regular season championships.

With a solid recruiting class, 16 in all, time will tell if this year’s team will capture its sixth consecutive conference title.

“We had a really good recruiting class this year,” Freeman said. “We will see what develops once they [recruits] get ice time. We feel it’s been one of our top recruiting classes we’ve had.”

The newcomers to the Falcons hockey team in alphabetical order are:

Ben Beaudoin, John Bullis, Grant Everett, Chris Giebe, Andrew Harrison, Elliot Houge, Josh Kamrass, Taylor Kennedy, Tad Norris, Tyler Pederson, Bill Pinel, Sean Roadhouse, Jamie Ruff, Bo Storozuk, Anthony Ventura and Jason Yuel.

“Pretty big group this year,” Freeman said.

UWRF had six seniors on last season’s roster, and needed a heavy recruiting year to fill their spots. One of last year’s seniors was TJ Dahl, the leading point producer for the Falcons in his final two seasons. He is also the third on the all-time scoring list for UWRF.

The players Freeman and Assistant Coach Bob Ritzer have recruited to UWRF have been a key aspect to the success of the program, but there is more to it, Freeman said.

“To have the success, you need to have talented players,” he said. “But you have to have those players play as a unit and buy into certain roles on the team. Often times you will get a player that was the leading scorer in their team and having them adapt to those roles can be a concern to the program at the college level.”

The recruiting class UWRF has brought in has more toughness and grit than in previous years, which is needed at the college level, Freeman said.

College hockey has become more physical than in juniors, so it’s important for players to come prepared for that style of play. The new recruits will soon find out that they may have to take on a checking role, something they may not have been used to at the high school level, Freeman said.

The trend in college hockey is having a roster filled with players that have played junior level hockey. Players will play for non-collegiate teams after high school, where they play more than 100 games against strong competition, which can help them develop physically and mentally prior to college.

“Some players are ready to step in and play major roles right away,” Freeman said. “For others, it takes a bit longer to adjust to the college level.”

The main difference between juniors and collegiate hockey is the speed of college hockey.

“It’s a step faster,” Freeman said. “It’s good for them [players] to play juniors to get them ready for physical play in college.”

Another component to UWRF’s success is the aforementioned Ritzer. He is in his 13th year as an assistant to Freeman, a full-time position.

“Bob has been fabulous,” Freeman said. “Our recruiting base is so wide. And we have to travel hundreds of miles at times to watch games, and he has done a great job in recruiting for us.”

Ritzer played hockey at UW-Superior, where he was named the school’s male athlete of the year and the team’s most valuable player in 1985. He was also captain of the team that year.

The coaching staff has landed recruits from Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin and Canada.

“Steve [Freeman] is just a great coach,” UWRF Athletic Director Rick Bowen said. “He gets good players to come here and he has a full-time assistant to help.”

With Hunt Arena being on the UWRF campus, it is another recruiting tool to draw talent to the program.

“Not many schools have that luxury,” Bowen said.

After taking over for Dick Talafous, who led UWRF to a Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) regular season championship in his final year, the 1996-97 season did not fall with Freeman in reign.

In his first season, Freeman coached UWRF to a 20-11-0 record which was good enough for second place in the WIAC.

In his third year, Freeman won the first of his seven WIAC regular season titles, compiling a 22-9-0 record year. The worst the Falcons have finished with Freeman was third.

Freeman is third all-time in wins among conference coaches with 236.

UWRF began practice Oct. 12 and has its first game on Oct. 24 against Marian University (Wis.) at Hunt Arena. “We will see what happens,” Freeman said.

The rosters are not set since practices just began. Captains and other roster moves will be made in the upcoming weeks.