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Men’s hockey faces difficult WIAC stretch run

February 4, 2015

The UW-River Falls men’s hockey team started the season off better than any other in school history winning 14 games in a row.

Since then, the Falcons have hit a bit of a bumpy patch going 3-4-1 in its last eight games after a few unlucky bounces, and a couple of off nights. Last weekend, however, the Falcons got back to original form, scoring seven goals in a two-game home sweep of the UW-Superior Yellowjackets.

Although the Falcons boast an impressive record of 16-4-1, the WIAC is the only conference in Div. III men’s hockey that doesn’t have an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. This means that every game matters for not only the Falcons but every team in the WIAC.

The Falcons have four games left in the season after last weekend’s sweep. Head Coach Steve Freeman says these games are huge.

“There’s a lot of pressure on our program and everyone in this league to win as many games as you can,” Freeman said. “We know the heat just keeps getting turned up every weekend and we know we can’t stumble.”

With a bye this upcoming weekend, the Falcons will have a chance to heal some bumps and bruises from the past few weeks. Following the bye week, the team will have four conference match-ups which will decide who wins the WIAC. Not only will the four games decide the WIAC, but these games will also help to see if anyone gets a bid into the NCAA tournament.

Currently, to earn first place in the WIAC, the Falcons will need to win at least three of its next four games in order to take the crown. UW-Stevens Point is currently sharing first place with the Falcons. With six games remaining in the season, the Pointers have an opportunity to claim sole possession of first with a slip up by the Falcons.

In second place, by one game, is the always dangerous UW-Eau Claire. After sweeping the Falcons on its home ice, the Blugolds have six games to move up and make a serious impact in the WIAC with a series this weekend against Superior.

On its return to the ice after the bye, the Falcons will go on the road to take on UW-Stout in a two-game conference series. The Falcons defeating the Blue Devils 7-3 back in early December after an impressive showing by sophomore forward Mitch Kontny, who scored two goals in the victory.

Senior forward Tom DeBace says this series shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“I think they will come ready to play Friday night, but as long as our effort and competition level is the same as it was last Saturday against Superior, they will have a tough time competing with us,” DeBace said.

UWRF will close out the seasons with one game against Stevens Point and Eau Claire, respectively. The Falcons are 1-1 against the Pointers this season, and UWRF will look to win the series to help earn a NCAA tournament bid. The Falcons will look for a redemption on the Blugolds’ home ice.

After the bye week, the Falcons look to come out guns blazing, and leading the pack will be the captains Blake Huppert and Alex Murphy. In his senior campaign, Huppert has 12 points which includes five goals.

Leading the team offensively is freshman forward Kyle Gattelaro with 17 points and in 21 games played; Gattelaro has 10 goals with 7 assists. Between the pipes, junior goaltender Tanner Milliron has been the workhorse for the team, playing in every game in his first season as the starting goaltender. Milliron is having an impressive season with a 1.89 goals against average and .931 save percentage.

The WIAC tournament will start Friday, Feb. 27. The location is to be determined as it is based on the higher seed. Falcons last home game is Feb. 20, on senior night against Stevens Point.