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At midway, UWRF women’s hockey ranks third, but men struggling

Falcon News Service

December 14, 2016

The UW-River Falls hockey season has reached the midway point. The women’s team is still ranked high nationally, but the men’s squad is struggling.

Both teams will take a month off and resume their seasons in early January.

The women’s hockey team finished the first half of the season with a 10-1 mark and as the winner of five in a row. The Falcons are currently ranked third in the country, with one first place vote, behind Elmira and defending national champions Plattsburgh State, according to D3hockey.com.

With the month-long break looming, Coach Joe Cranston said he doesn’t believe his team will suffer from any accumulation of rust.

“If anything, the rest is good. As long as they stay active,” said Cranston. “Mentally, especially, it’s good for them to get a break.” The players will usually play in an alumni game or practice with their high school teams to stay active, according to Cranston.

Injuries will mount up as the season goes on, and Cranston recognizes this is a time to give a body rest. Bella Wagner was unfortunately one of those plagued with injury. Wagner went down early in the season against UW-Stevens Point with a partially torn ACL and MCL. The injury forced Cranston to change the lines, and as of now, Wagner is set to return in late January.

River Falls has adjusted to the injury, going 6-1 since Wagner hurt her knee. Cranston said the freshmen have been a big part of maintaining the season.

“We’ve had 11 goals from freshman in nine games,” he said.

It also helps when Falcons Goalie Angie Hall posted three straight shutouts, before allowing one goal in the first half finale, and saved 64 shots in a row. The women’s team will resume action Jan. 6 against Concordia College.

However, for the men’s team it hasn’t been easy skating. The Falcons are off to a 5-8-1 start, including going 0-4 at the beginning of the season. It was the longest losing streak to start a season since at least 2009-2010.

Coach Steve Freeman said the winter break has come at a good time for his team.

“With our struggles, and things, I think it’s going to be good for us to get the extra practice time,” said Freeman. “It gives us some time to kind of regroup a little bit, and possibly get some guys back that we’ve had out with injuries.”

During practice over the break, Freeman said he and his team will focus on increasing the pace and bolstering the offense by pushing the puck up the ice quicker. River Falls currently ranks last in goals per game — with 1.93 — out of five teams in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

On the defensive side of the ice, Freeman has seen great things out of new goalie Zach Quinn.

“Zach Quinn has done a tremendous job since we put him in the nets,” said Freeman.

Junior Alex Okicki started the season as the goalie for the Falcons, but was replaced by the freshman Quinn in the fifth game of the year.

“At that point we just thought that we needed a change,” said Freeman. “We thought there were some goals that were going that shouldn’t have gone in. Alex was fighting it a little bit towards the end.”

After 12 games, Quinn is allowing 1.59 goals per game, which ranks him first in the WIAC.

River Falls won its last two games, which Freeman emphasized is important to the team and its momentum going into the winter break. The Falcons resume play Jan. 5 at St. John’s University.