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Falcon season ends, lose to Saints in NCHA playoffs

March 5, 2009

A pair of 2-0 defeats on Feb. 20-21 to No. 4 College of St. Scholastica (CSS) in the first round of the NCHA playoffs has ended the season for the UW-River Falls men’s hockey team, which finished the season with a record of 10-15-2 (4-9-1 NCHA).

This season had high expectations, but the Falcons came out of the gate slow and posted a 1-6-1 record in their first eight games and never fully recovered.
In the first round of the conference playoffs, UWRF played the Saints, a team that upset the Falcons a year ago in the first round. This season, there was no upset.

Despite playing a top team that UWRF has played well all year, it could not find a way to get a puck past CSS goalie Steve Bounds, who stopped all 63 shots he faced in the two game series, including 38 on Feb. 21.

“We ran into a hot goalie,” senior co-captain Derek Hansberry said, who ended his season with a team leading 16 goals. “We just did not get the bounces at the end.”
The teams had two regular season meetings prior to the playoffs and split the series. UWRF won its first game of the season on Nov. 14 6-3 while the Saints were able to win 3-2 on Jan. 24.

Falcon Head Coach Steve Freeman said the team went up to Duluth, Minn. and played about as hard as they could.

“The guys played really hard and with a great deal of intensity,” he said. “They have a great team up there and we were able to play with them. We just didn’t bury the chances we had. There were times in the game where we really outplayed them, but did not convert.”

With the season coming to a close, it also means the book closes on the career of Hansberry, whose 74 career goals falls five short of the all-time goal scoring mark.

“I would have liked a few more goals or a few more assists, but more wins for the team for sure,” he said. “I think all of us would have liked a better ending to the season, but looking back at everything, you can’t be disappointed.”

Josh Meyers, the Falcons other co-captain, played his final game in a Falcon uniform said the past four years were special.

“It was fun,” he said. “Fun to be on a team that won as much as we did. This program has a lot of rich hockey tradition and to be a part of it is something else. Three years we were able to hang banners and that is something to be proud of. I’m thankful for all the good times as well as the bad times.”

The Falcons won the WIAC championship in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but it is not looked at as seriously as the NCHA, which consist of all the WIAC teams as well as St. Norbert College, CSS and Lake Forest College (Ill.).

The biggest problem UWRF had all season was scoring goals.

It averaged 2.56 goals a game, second worst in the conference, and lost many close games as a result. The Falcons and Lake Forest were the only two teams in the NCHA not to average more than 3 goals a game.

The Falcons lost 11 games by two goals or less. With teams being able to focus mostly on Hansberry for UWRF’s goals, a lot of pressure was put on the youth of the Falcons.

“We had some character problems and let some guys go that were part of the program last year and that might have hurt us,” Freeman said. “We brought in a lot of young guys in this season and it took them a while to get used to the game.”

Tyler Czuba was the team’s leading goal scorer for most of the season was unable to play for most of the last month of the season, including the playoffs, which hurt the Falcons. With him in the lineup UWRF had two solid goal scoring lines.

Czuba was dealing with several injuries throughout the season.

“We were hit with injuries late in the season,” Freeman said. “Some of them were regulars and we didn’t have them for some big games.”

The advantage for next year is UWRF freshmen will have gained the experience of the powerful NCHA and should be poised for a conference title next season.

“A lot of freshmen got a lot of minutes, which should help them next year,” Freeman said. “I look forward to working with these guys next season. We have a good foundation in goal with Stephan Ritter and Bo [Storozuk] and we build from there.”

As far as this season went Freeman said it is a mixed bag of emotions and great learning experience taught by Hansberry.

“Record wise it is disappointing,” he said of the team that was picked to finish second in the NCHA. “But I think it will be good for the team next year. The younger guys saw first-hand how Derek [Hansberry] handled himself. His work ethic and drive really showed.”

Hansberry and Meyers said the messages to their teammates for years to come did not need to be delivered, but they all know what it is.

“You can’t take it for granted,” Meyers said. “The years go by quick and you have to take advantage of them. The guys know that.”

Hansberry said something similar.

“It goes by fast,” he said. “Showed that you have to work hard and if you donÕt you wonÕt win. I still think the season was a success and a lot of guys learned a lot from the season.”