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Women’s hockey ranked No. 1 in Western Region

March 7, 2014

For the sixth year in a row, the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team finds itself in the O’Brien Cup finals.

After defeating UW-Eau Claire in the first round of the tournament, the Falcons will now host UW-Stevens Point in the finals at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, at Hunt Arena. Stevens Point has been a team that has given the Falcons some trouble this season as the Pointers hold a 2-1-1 record against UWRF this year.

“Stevens Point swept us in our first conference weekend, but later in the year, we beat and tied them. They are a very good team, and we will need to be very disciplined in every area of our game to beat them this Saturday,” said Head Coach Joe Cranston. “They are strong and physical, and they work really hard. We will have to match their effort, and not blow our scoring chances.”

Since the sweep at the hands of Stevens Point, the Falcons compiled a 16-1-3 record to end the regular season to finish with a final record of 18-4-3, good enough to finish first in the WIAC and to claim home-ice advantage in the conference tournament.

However, Cranston said at the beginning of the season the team’s goal was not simply to win the conference, but get to the Frozen Four in the national tournament. The Falcons have made the NCAA tournament the last five years in a row, including one Frozen Four appearance.

The beginning of the season brought no indication of a team capable of making a Frozen Four run.

“This season started out a little rough,” said Kait Mason, a junior on the team.

Cranston said he knew it would be more difficult to reach the tournament this year, as the WIAC no longer receives an automatic bid. And after the 2-3 start, Cranston was a bit worried.

“I knew that if we lost five or six games all year, it would mean no chance for an NCAA berth, so losing three of your first five was pretty scary,” Cranston said. “We’ve had our back against the wall all year because of that start.”

At the beginning of the year Brook Story, a senior on the team, said, “I think we can be great. If everyone puts in an effort, works hard, and has fun we should be successful.”

So far, that has happened, and the nation has taken notice. The Falcons are currently ranked No. 1 in the Western Region, according to the NCAA, which would likely be their seed in the national tournament if the team wins Saturday. Stevens Point is currently ranked No. 2 in the Western Region.

The top ranking has a lot to do with winning, obviously, but this season the Falcons have played a very difficult schedule as well, including 13 games against ranked opponents.

“We have one of the toughest schedules in the country, and we have played very well down the stretch. I think all those games that we had to battle right down to the final buzzer, have made us a much stronger team than years past when we had a weaker schedule,” Cranston said.

When it comes down to it, though, the Falcons have their eyes set only on the Pointers.

“We are all very excited about the game this weekend and we are very focused on what we have to do. Everyone on the team knows exactly how important this game is and that our season is on the line,” Mason said. “We are the only ones right now that have control of our future and will do anything to be successful.”