Women's hockey advances to fifth straight O'Brien Cup final
February 28, 2018
The Falcons advanced to their fifth straight O’Brien Cup final with wins over UW-Stevens Point 9-0 and 6-1 in the WIAC semifinals series this past weekend at Hunt Arena.
UW-River Falls has never lost a game in the WIAC tournament, also known as the O’Brien Cup. They sit at 11-0-1 overall, with four titles to their credit.
The no. 1 seeded Falcons left little doubt in their ranking against Point on Friday night, with seven different players scoring goals. Carly Moran and Sam Young each had two apiece, and Haley Nielsen added three assists in a dominating performance.
“We just rolled four lines and we had scoring out of all four lines,” head coach Joe Cranston said. “We set the pace early and we just wore them down with our speed.”
Point hung around in the first period of both games, but couldn’t keep up with the Falcons, Cranston said. He added that the Falcons try to outpace other teams in pretty much every game and use their depth to their own advantage. This could be seen by their 43-11 shot advantage in game one, while also doubling their opponent’s shots on Saturday.
Moran added that the team’s lifting program and work ethic in practice is designed to maximize their speed and that the team brings in players who fit this mold.
“The biggest thing for any team is having people fill different roles on the team,” Moran said. “Our fourth liners are important and the people that don’t always get the recognition. They block shots and win battles and we have all different players fill those roles.”
This depth was also apparent on Saturday afternoon, where it was a tight 2-1 game after the first period. However, the Falcons controlled the puck in the Stevens Point zone for the majority of the game and rarely allowed the Pointers to push the tempo forward.
“We had a lot more activity and energy on the bench,” Young said. “We switched up the lines a little bit and it gave us more confidence doing that.”
Pointers goalie Sydney Conley made an incredible 55 save in an earlier regular season meeting that ended in a 0-0 tie but wasn’t able to find that same level of success against the Falcons this past weekend.
The win moved the Falcons into a rematch of last year’s O’Brien Cup final against UW-Eau Claire. The teams split meetings in the regular season and have gone down to the wire in almost every matchup in the past two years.
“They’ve always been one of our rivals … they’re a tough team,” Moran said. “We always just have trouble with them, and they’ve improved and have a new coach. They’re playing with a lot of confidence and they’ve had some huge wins this season, but we will be confident too. It’s going to be a battle, and we’re up for the challenge.”
Cranston said that there are lessons to learn from the team’s tie and loss to Eau Claire in the last week of the regular season.
“The biggest thing is we need to keep the game simple and not having players trying to do too much - moving the puck quicker and putting a lot of pressure on the puck and keep our feet moving.”
Cranston said one of the other key factors is who scores first and who takes advantage of their scoring chances. The Blugolds scored first in their last meeting and seemed to control the momentum from there.
“More confidence is what we needed,” Young said. “They scored right off the bat and we needed more energy.”
Moran said that instilling confidence in the team and reminding them of what they’re capable has been a big aspect in the locker room. The team recently received confidence letters from each of their parents before the games against Point.
“This team is capable of a lot … we’ve talked about playing to win and not playing to not lose,” Moran said. “That pressure is always there, and the target is on our back because we’ve always been at the top of the chain. But we have to relieve some of that pressure and play Falcon hockey.”
Cranston and his players agreed that winning a fifth-straight WIAC title is extremely important for their chances of making a NCAA tournament for their tenth consecutive season.
“It’s going to be out of our hands if we lose this game,” Cranston said. “We really want to take care of business on Saturday and put us in the best position for getting in.”
Moran added that this will definitely be their biggest game of the season. She said that having more fans at the past games and the excitement of postseason hockey also contributed to the team stepping up their game. They will look to give Hunt Arena something to cheer about when they host Eau Claire in the WIAC championship on Saturday. Puck drop is set for 2:05 p.m.