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Men’s hockey aims to win back-to-back WIAC titles

October 31, 2014

The UW-River Falls men’s hockey team finished better than anticipated last season by capturing the 2013-2014 WIAC championship.

This season, the team looks to have repeat success with a mix between new and old players. The team will be led by Head Coach Steve Freeman, who has been with the team since 1996 and has been the longest tenured coach in UWRF men’s hockey history. Since his first year as head coach, Freeman has led the team to 10 WIAC championships and has been named Coach of the Year eight times.

Prior to the arrival of Freeman, the men’s hockey team had been to the NCAA tournament on five separate occasions, finishing third, second and winning the title two times in 1988 and 1994.

Last season, the team had 28 players and after only losing 10 in the off-season, the team will look similar this year. The team will start the season without last season’s leading goal scorer Willie Hess and four-year starting goaltender Scott Lewan. Senior forward Tom DeBace is excited to get this season underway with the new players on the team.

“We’ve got a lot of skill on this team, and a lot of new freshmen on this team that are really skilled,” DeBace said.

The Falcons look to be in good shape to start off the season with three of the top four point leaders returning, and a goaltender who played well last season.

Junior Tanner Milliron will look to compete for the open spot at goaltender this season. Milliron played in some big games for the Falcons last season, which included a win against NCAA runner-up, WIAC rival UW-Stevens Point. Milliron finished the 2013-14 season with a 4-2-3 overall record which included the teams only shut-out.

Also competing for the open position this season will be David Heflin, a sophomore from Illinois. In the season prior to arriving at UWRF, Heflin posted a 21-5 record in the regular season. In the North American Tier III Hockey League (NA3HL) Heflin was ranked fourth in wins and posted a 92.0 save-percentage which ranked him sixth.

Returning at forward is All-WIAC senior captain Blake Huppert who led UWRF with 21 points last season. Three key sophomores also return in Ryan Doner, Christian George, and All-WIAC Honorable Mention Mitch Kontny. Doner, George and Kontny combined for 55 points as freshmen. Junior Zach Schrotenboer looks to improve upon his 15 point, five goal season.

The Falcons will look to improve on the offensive side of the puck after finishing third in the WIAC in goals scored with 77. Freeman wants his group of guys to be a fast team and keep the speed of the game up through three periods.

“It seemed like last year we might start out well. We’d get a lead going into the third period and we’d sit in that lead a little bit instead of playing the same way we did in the beginning of the game,” Freeman said.

Special teams were another issue for the Falcon’s as the team ranked last in the WIAC in power play goals with 18. On defense, the team loses a pair of seniors in Jon Schreiner and Jeff Burke who played an aggressive style of hockey.

This season, the Falcons’ schedule will start off the month of November taking on non-conference opponents. Although these games may not seem important, the team will need every win that they can get.

Last season, the WIAC had new rules put into place where no team receives an automatic entry into the NCAA tournament. Instead, teams in the WIAC can earn an at-large bid into the tournament which is based on overall record and strength of schedule, as well as WIAC tournament results.

During the season, the Falcons will play each of the four other teams in the WIAC three total times. The first two conference series’ will be a true test for the Falcons this season as it takes on Stevens Point followed by a series against I-94 rival UW-Eau Claire, who won the national championship back in 2013.

The Falcons will start the 2014 campaign on Thursday, Nov. 6, in Moorhead, Minnesota, against the Concordia-Moorhead Cobbers. The puck drops at 7 p.m.