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Women’s hockey looks back, forward

March 6, 2008

When the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team began their season four months ago, it was hard to imagine that this team would be where they are now. A team that had nine freshman joining a group of mostly seniors had to eliminate their underdog status to become one of the top teams in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA).

“Overall, I was happy with our season, but I didn’t expect to finish third,” Head Coach Joe Cranston said. “We have a very young team with a lot of freshman, and I think we hit a learning curve this year.”

Jamie Briski was one of those incoming freshman and admitted to being nervous at the start of the season.

“It was a little awkward for me coming in,” Briski said. “I didn’t know very many of the girls and it took an adjustment period for us to get know everyone.”

Senior Kristen Juven noticed that the freshmen played key roles on and off the ice for the Falcons this season.

“In games, they weren’t hesitant to try anything and created opportunities for others to score, while off the ice they always had a smile and worked hard,” she said. “They really helped with team cohesion.”

With all the talent that the freshmen brought in, combined with the experience of the seniors, it, the Falcons were propelled to a third-place finish in the NCHA standings. However, that placement left the team unsatisfied.

“Based on the way we played, I was a little disappointed not to finish first or second,” Cranston said.

Offensively, this was the best season for the Falcons, scoring 92 goals on the season, 15 more goals than the year before. 40 percent of those goals were scored in the first period.

“Traditionally, Falcon hockey are third period teams, but we scored a lot in the first period,” Juven said. “Sometimes it was difficult keeping that momentum going for the rest of the game.”

The Falcons had a great season defensively as well, holding opponents to two or fewer goals in 15 of the 25 games played, leading to a season average of 1.9 goals against.

“One of our goals this year was to hold opponents to under two goals a game, and we accomplished that goal,” Cranston said.

Juven said that the surprising thing about this team is that nothing went wrong. Adjustments had to be made, but that comes with any team.

“Nothing went wrong because of the expectations put on the team,” Coach Cranston said.

“Our goal is to work hard; I didn’t have a lot of expectations for the players.”

With the regular season over, the Falcons took that talent to the NCHA tournament Feb. 29-March 2.

“We’re excited for the tournament,” Cranston said. “It’s always fun to have all the teams in one location.”

This was the first year that the tournament had six teams in it. River Falls had to win three games in three days to bring the championship back to UWRF.

In the first round of the tournament, UWRF faced Finlandia, ranked sixth in the conference.

“Even though we beat Finlandia three times, we’re sure not going to overlook them,” Cranston said. “Our goal is to get a win and stay healthy.”

River Falls got that victory in decisive fashion Feb. 29, as the Falcons beat Finlandia 6-1 to advance to the second round, where they faced off with UW-Stevens Point.

“We’re not going to play the same way we did during the regular season, because we didn’t beat them,” Cranston said.

The Falcons benefited from not playing the same way, edging out Stevens Point 2-1 to advance to the championship game against UW-Superior.

In a thrilling fashion, the championship game was won in overtime by Superior. The Falcons allowed a late third period goal to send the game to overtime, where UW-Superior scored the winning goal 10 minutes in.