Falcon men’s hockey surging; is it too little, too late?
February 10, 2011
For weeks Hunt Arena sat quiet and forgotten with the students off on break and no one to cheer, but on Friday the Hunting Grounds awoke to screams of 785 as the Falcons came from behind to win 4-2.
Two short weeks ago the Falcons were reeling; they had dropped six of their last seven games and were seen as after thoughts in the NCHA. But tough resilience held in the minds and hearts of players as they headed north for a two game road trip that could determine how their season was remembered.
On Jan. 28 at UW-Superior, the Falcons fought tooth and nail with the Yellowjackets. A loss for the Falcons meant they were destined to go on the road in the NCHA playoffs, a win meant they stayed alive one more night.
Regulation couldn’t solve that heated battle, and it was with just seven seconds left in overtime that freshman Geoff Shewmake found the back of the net to give the Falcons a 1-0 win.
One night and a border later the Falcons entered Minnesota to take on the St. Scholastica Saints and a scoring frenzy ensued, as Justin Brossman (2), Ryan Goodmanson (2) and John Bullis tallied goals in a 5-3 win.
That brought the Falcons home Friday night on a two-game winning streak and back in the hunt for home ice in the opening round of the NCHA playoffs. As the clock ticked down and stands filled it became apparent that the student body had returned to campus and that Hunt Arena again was offering the greatest home ice advantage in the conference.
The Falcons quickly fell down 1-0 when Kevin O’Donnell scored at 1:58 if the period. Nearly 17 minutes later O’Donnell tallied his second goal of the game on the power play to make it 2-0 UW-Stout. For much of the season a two-goal deficit has spelled doom for a Falcons squad that has been anemic when it comes to scoring.
But on this night something was different, and it started not on the ice but in the Hunting Grounds, as the stands in the southeast corner of the rink are referred to. The student body was back and there was a buzz in the air throughout the first intermission. These fans weren’t going to go quietly and neither were their Falcons.
Just over five minutes into the second period Chris Salomone scored his first career collegiate goal, pulling the Falcons to within one at 2-1. Six minutes later Jason Yuel broke away short-handed to beat the goaltender and tie the game at two.
In the third the Falcons took the ice to a thunderous roar from the student section and the Falcons answered the call of their fans tallying two third period goals one by Alec Hageman, the other by Brossman. The Falcons and their fans had returned to Hunt Arena and put themselves back in the hunt.
“It was a great crowd. Everybody including the student section and parents were into the game,” said men’s hockey player Justin Brossman. “It was tough being down early in the game but the crowd still supported us and cheered.
They never seemd to lose interest no matter what was going on. It was great to see after some of the struggles we’ver had.”
That set the stage for the Falcons trip to UW-Eau Claire Saturday night. The Falcons entered the night one point behind the Blugolds in the standings. Again the Falcons fell behind early but again the Falcons were not going to go away quietly.
Chris Heineman scored at 5:04 of the first period to put the Blugolds up 1-0. But Brossman had an answer, registering his own goal at 9:37 to tie it at one. It was Brossman’s fourth goal in the last three games.
In the second, Geoff Shewmake threw the puck past Blugolds’ goaltender Brandon Stephenson putting the Falcons up 2-1, a lead they would never relinquish. Leading after two the Falcons came out in the third and widened the gap when Jason Yuel scored at 7:46 of the period putting the Falcons up 3-1.
Eau Claire pulled to within a goal at 3-2 on a power play goal by Andrew Wilcox, but they would get no closer. Scott Lewan shut the door from there on out saving every shot the Blugolds threw his way and Bullis served up the dagger with 8 seconds to go as he hit an empty netter to seal a 4-2 win.
With four straight wins it seems the Falcons season has turned the corner, but it seems too late. The Falcons have put themselves back into the running to host an opening round series in the NCHA tournament at Hunt Arena. But after a slow start and dawdling through the middle of the season, it seems the Falcons fast finish will not be enough.
The Falcons need things to fall in their favor or else they will travel in the NCHA’s opening round Feb. 18-19, a fourth place or higher finish would earn the Falcons home ice. The Falcons currently trail both Stout and UW-Stevens Point by two points for the third and fourth spots in the standings. However both teams hold the tiebreaker over the Falcons which virtually puts UWRF back by three points meaning that the Falcons need to finish the season with more points than at least one of those teams which.
That means the Falcons need to get at least one point from St. Norbert on Friday night, something that hasn’t happened since Dec 2, 2006 when the Falcons won 3-2. Since that time the Falcons have gone 0-9 vs. the Green Knights. If the Falcons do pick up a point from St. Norbert they will still need to pick up a win against Stevens Point on Saturday. The Falcons also need whoever loses Friday nights Stevens Point-Stout game to also lose on Saturday.
The Falcons could still finish as high as second but with the Falcons track record against St. Norbert it will take a special effort to even finish fourth in the standings. It is also very possible the Falcons could fall to sixth. Both the Falcons games are at home this weekend beginning at 7:05 p.m.
Robert Silvers is a student at UW-River Falls.