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Falcons finish fourth in Frozen Four

March 24, 2009

After a victory against the No. 1 ranked team the week prior, the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team was unable to perform an encore in the Div. III women’s Frozen Four with a 3-2 overtime loss to Middlebury College (Vt.), which followed a 3-0 loss to Elmira College (N.Y.) in the national semifinal.

In the third place game against Middlebury, UWRF Head Coach Joe Cranston said the Falcons gave the Panthers everything they could handle.

“We really took it to them,” Cranston said. “To go into their building and play them they way we did was outstanding. It might have been the best performance of any team I have ever coached.”

Unfortunately for UWRF, Middlebury’s Grace Watters shot was able to squeak past Falcon goalie Melissa Deardorff with 12 seconds remaining in overtime.
If there was no scoring in the overtime session, the game would have gone to a shootout.

“I was hoping for a shootout,” Cassis Campbell, who sat out the third place game after stopping 22 shots the previous day, said. “Deardorff is so good at shootouts and I believe we would have won the game. It was too bad they had to score on a goal like that.”

The Falcons had several chances to make overtime irrelevant, including a breakaway by Emma Nordness in the second.

“We could have had six or seven goals with the way we played,” Cranston said. “We had the chances.”

Stefanie Schmitz, who had two assists in the game, said the Falcons were a different team in the third place game.

“We didn’t play Falcon hockey on Friday [the semifinal game],” she said. “The next day we came out and took it to the No. 1 seed.”

Abby Sunderman opened the scoring, putting away a goal in what was a scrum in front of the net. It was her 16th goal of the season.

The 1-0 lead did not last long in the first period as the Panthers’ Julie Ireland tallied one from the blue line and the game was tied after the first period.

Midway through the second, the Falcons got their second lead of the game on a power play goal by Heather Horgan, who blasted a shot from the point as well to give UWRF a 2-1 lead.

With several scoring chances throughout the period, UWRF was able to control the game, but unable to get any more goals and the score remained 2-1 going into the third.

Middlebury answered again with a power play goal six minutes into the third when Molly Vitt beat Deardorff glove side from the left faceoff dot.

Once again, the Falcons had a lot of pressure, but could not get another shot past Panther goalie Lani Wright.

In overtime, Watters’ goal ended the game and left the Falcons empty handed when they came home.

The previous day, UWRF did not have a chance against Elmira.

After an Ashly Berner hooking penalty in the first minute of the game, Elmira’s Kayla Coady scored when she buried a loose puck in what was a scramble in front of the Falcons net. It ended up being the only goal it needed.

“We made them look good,” Cranston said. “We might have played our worst game of the year that day. I don’t know if it was the travel or the fact that none of our players have been there before. All the other teams had more experience than us, but we could have played better. None of those teams were better than Gustavus.”

Campbell said it was not the way UWRF has played all year.

“We didn’t play our kind of hockey,” she said. “We just did not have it at all.”

It was the first and only time this season UWRF was shut out and it picked a bad time to do it.

“We didn’t play Falcon hockey,” Schmitz said. “Only person that played really well was Cassi (Campbell). She kept us in the game.”

With two losses last weekend, Cranston said it was still a great season.

“Absolutely,” he said. “We were picked to finish third in our conference. We ended up winning that and the playoffs. The next week we go play Gustavus in their rink and beat them. We hung three banners this year and that is something to be proud of.”

Goals were set by the team at the start of the season and Schmitz said whatever task was ahead of the Falcons, they made sure they took care of it.

“As the season went on, we kept on accomplishing our goals,” she said. “We were not picked to win our regular season title, we did that. We were not picked to win the O’Brien Cup. We did that. Then we were picked to lose against Gustavus. We beat them. This has been a great season for all of us.”

For a young team, only one senior, No. 3 goalie Katie Kantrud, Campbell said the learning experience UWRF had last weekend will only help them for next season.

“We are a young team and are returning almost everybody and that will help us a lot for next year,” she said. “We will be ready.”

Technically, the Falcons will not lose anybody, because Kantrud will be one of the team managers for next season.

Jessica Thompson, who led the NCHA in points this regular season as a sophomore, said the season could not have turned out any better than it did.
“Amazing season,” she said. “You couldn’t ask for a better one.”

Even with two losses to end the season, Cranston said the season will help build a strong program in what will need to be with a tough NCHA schedule that will include a new team, Adrian College (Mich.), which swept the Falcons at home in January.

“We will have everyone back next year and will need them,” he said. “Our conference is going to be one of the toughest. We will also have a harder non-conference schedule with two games against Gustavus and St. Thomas.”

Gustavus, St. Thomas and Adrian all finished in the top 10 in the national polls.

Returning for the Falcons will be the top line of Thompson, Schmitz and Sunderman, all who finished in the top 10 in points in the NCHA.

“Having them back will be huge,” Cranston said. “They just continue to get better and better.”

“I see nothing but good things for next year,” Schmitz said. “Joe has got some good recruits coming in so we should be solid again next year.”