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Falcon women host O’Brien Cup

February 26, 2009

For the first time since 2003, the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team won the NCHA regular season title and secured the opportunity to host the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association O’Brien Cup tournament Feb. 27 through March 1.

Even though the Falcons still had two road games against UW-Eau Claire in their regular season schedule, they knew that they had taken the regular season conference title with their 6-1 victory over Finlandia University Feb. 15.

Every year the NCHA tournament is held on the home ice of the team that wins the regular season conference title, this year going to UWRF. The Hunt Arena will play host to six teams competing in the tournament including UW-Stevens Point, UW-Superior, Eau Claire, Concordia University and Lake Forest College.

To prepare for the tournament Head Coach Joe Cranston said that the team will be doing business as normal.

“There is nothing special we really doing to prepare,” Cranston said. “We just try to stay consistent, be focused and play every shift.”

With all the teams coming into town, the Director of Hunt Arena and Knowles Center Steve Stocker said the arena staff are also preparing for the tournament.

“We have all the logistical stuff already done like scheduling officials, goal judges, camera people, locker room assignments and making sure the arena is up to par,” Stocker said.

The Falcons finished out their regular season with a record of 13-2-1 in the NCHA and a 15-5-3 overall. They come into the tournament having lost only two conference games to Stevens Point and Superior.

With their season going as well as it has, Cranston said he is confident his team will perform well.

“With only two conference losses we are definitely the team to beat,” Cranston said. “We always play well at tournament time, so I expect we will play hard and fast hockey.”

Falcon captain Stefanie Schmitz said she agrees that team will do well in the tournament.

“Our team has been playing really well this year,” Schmitz said.  “I think we really have a shot at taking the title.”

The Falcons have not participated in the national tournament since 2003. Assistant Coach Mandy Stokes was a member of the women’s hockey team when it last went to nationals in 2003. She said she believes that the team this year has what it takes to make it there again.

“This team has the best chemistry and skill than any other year,” Stokes said. “They all have the same goal and same hope and know that they can do it.”

Having the opportunity to host the tournament in our own barn is a definite advantage because of the atmosphere it creates, sophomore Lauren Conrad said.

“I’m pretty excited because we always have pretty good attendance and a decent student section so it’s nice that we’ll have them to help bring more energy to the rink,” Conrad said.

Last year, the Falcons were on the verge of taking the title in the championship game against Superior. With a minute left, the Falcons were up by one goal. Tragedy struck with only 25 seconds left when the Yellowjackets tied it up forcing a sudden death overtime. The Yellowjackets scored again shortly into the overtime and took the playoff title, dashing the Falcons’ dreams of competing in nationals.

Falcon forward Abby Sunderman said she remembers how hard it was to come so close and lose it in over time.

“With seven seniors on the team people were just devastated,” Sunderman said. “I think those players who returned are looking for revenge and even more determined to win this year.”

If the Falcons win the playoff tournament this year they receive an automatic bid to compete in the NCAA National Tournament, of which the location is yet to be decided. 

The Falcons play their first game 3:05 p.m. Feb. 28 against the lowest remaining seed. The championship game will be held 3:30 p.m. March 1.