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Falcon hockey teams experience success in NCHA playoffs

March 5, 2010

The WIAC playoffs have started for the UW-River Falls men’s and women’s hockey teams, as both try to earn bids into the NCAA tournament draw.

The Falcon men hosted their first round of the WIAC playoffs Feb. 19 and 20 against UW-Eau Claire, and the women’s team played their first round of the playoffs at home Feb. 26 and 27, also against UWEC.

In their first hockey series, the men defeated the Blugolds at home in two games. On Feb 19, the Falcons started the series off with a 3-1 victory. In the game, Andy Inderieden, Tad Norris and Ben Beaudoin all scored goals for the Falcons, while goalie Bo Storozuk made 24 saves.

In the second game, the Falcons and Blugolds played a high scoring game, with nine goals combined between the two. The Falcons won the game 6-3, with the Falcons putting 34 shots on Blugolds goaltender Brandon Stephenson.

Caleb Wolfgram, Ryan Goodmanson, Sean Roadhouse, and Tyler Czuba all scored goals in the game, with Ben Beaudoin scoring two. Storozuk gave up three goals on 16 shots.

With the victory, the third-seeded Falcons played their way into a second round NCHA game against St. Scholastica, who earned a bye in the first round as the number two seed. St. Scholastica finished just above the Falcons in the season standings, with a six point lead.

Fans at the game were aware of the playoff implications for not only the Falcons, but the other teams as well. The results of other games in the NCHA playoffs determined where the Falcons would play the second round.

“We, the super fans, and others, were cheering on Superior and Stout that night after our game because if both of them had won, we would have hosted a game [Feb 27],” said Falcon fan Keith Cremin. “Sadly, neither team won.”

The game is important in Division III hockey, with both teams ranked nationally. According to the USCHO Web site, the Falcons are ranked 15 in the nation, and St. Scholastica 6 in Division III.

Falcon’s Coach Steve Freeman said preparing his team for the playoffs could make the difference in the continuation of his team’s season.

“The playoffs are serious business, something we’ve worked for everyday since September,” Freeman said. “These games represent the opportunity to keep moving toward our goal or shut down the season.”

Freeman said that although the team goes into tournament games with similar strategies as the regular season, game changing plays in games become magnified in a playoff atmosphere.

“The X’s and O’s don’t change much, but the mistakes really become magnified,” Freeman said. “Bad penalties and turnovers become major problems that can end your season.”

The second round game will be played at St. Scholastica which is located in Duluth, Minn., Feb 27.

The Falcon women, who start the NCHA tournament a week after the men, will host the first round matchup at home, also against the Blugolds. The Falcons earned home ice after finishing third in the NCHA, with the Blugolds finishing sixth. The teams played each other Jan. 15 and 16, and tied both games. Head Coach Joe Cranston said that the team will go into the playoffs with a similar mindset as the regular season.

“We aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary,” said Cranston. “We are just trying to stay focused and we will be playing our game.”

He also said that the intensity is what makes the playoffs different than the regular season for the team.

“I think the only thing we need to change is our mind set, and be able to play with more emotion,” he said. Goaltender Cassi Campbell said that the team is working through some last minute preparations in lieu of the first round matchup against the Blugolds.

“The team is doing everything we can to prepare,” she said. “We’re still working through some recent line changes, and really just making sure we’re keeping our feet moving throughout practice all week.”

She said that the team considers the playoffs a chance for the team to prove what it may not have been able to in the regular season.

“I believe that our team has worked hard all year, and although that doesn’t show in the regular season standings, we’re really looking forward to proving ourselves throughout playoffs,” she said.

The women’s hockey team advanced to a second round game against Adrian on March 5. Both teams finished tied at the end of the season with 23 points. The game will be played at Lake Forest, Ill.

The men also advanced to the NCHA finals, defeating St. Scholastica, 6-3. They will play at St. Norbert on March 6. The winner receives an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. St. Norbert defeated the Falcons in three games this season.