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Falcons hockey believes it has national championship caliber team

November 14, 2018

The UW-River Falls men’s hockey team has started the 2018-2019 season with a record of 3-1-2, a much-improved start compared to the 8-17-4 overall record the team had last season. Last weekend, the Falcons completed their season series with Concordia College at Hunt Arena, defeated the Cobbers on Friday 5-4 before tying them 1-1 on Saturday.

Overall attendance for the Falcons has increased from an average of 524 per game in 2017-2018, to 761 so far this season. As the fan base grows for UWRF hockey, both Head Coach Steve Freeman and senior captain Eddie Matsushima believe the Falcons have improved greatly.

“We want to be in the hunt to win championships again,” Coach Freeman said. “We want to compete with the top teams in the nation, and I think this year we are making the step.”

Matsushima shares the same sentiment, saying, “I think it’s a national championship caliber team, there no question in my mind, we easily have the talent to do it”

Matsushima, through six games, has scored nine goals and tallied three assists for a WIAC leading 12 points. He believes that his success in the early parts of the season has a great deal to do with his teammates. Matsushima specifically targets the young freshman on the team, who are buying into the program.

“I happen to be lucky enough to be on the receiving end of the opportunities,” Matsushima said. “It’s the right spot and right time”.

Coach Freeman spoke glowingly of Matsushima, praising his playing style and explosiveness on the ice. “Not only is [Matsushima] a tremendous hockey player, he has great leadership skills and he leads by examples,” Freeman said. “We couldn’t ask for a better role model for the program”.

Matsushima, who is a two-time team captain, said, “Make sure you set a good example, make sure [teammates] are on the right track with not only athletics and in the weight room, but school as well.”

Matsushima, who double majoring in exercise science and business management, like many student-athletes must balance the sport he loves with school work. In the offseason, he spends time back home near Madison, Wisconsin training in the rink with professional hockey athletes. However, when the school year starts back up in the fall, he must balance his priorities.

“You have to be on top of your stuff as far as time management goes, it gets kind of tricky sometimes. A lot of times you’ll have to say no to playing Fortnite with the guys,” Matsushima said.

Assistant coach Bob Ritzer has remained busy in the offseason trying to recruit more players from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, New Jersey and California. Over a third of the players on the current roster are freshman, including Roseville, Minnesota-native Josh Arnold, who through six games has tallied six points playing on the first line with Matsushima.

When discussing Arnold, Coach Freeman said, “He’s a very explosive player with a great deal of speed, he’s contributing right out of the gate for us and I think he’s going to be a real high-end player for us.”

Coach Freeman, who is entering his 23rd season as the head coach of the Falcons, contends that because D-I hockey hasn’t expanded in some time, that the D-III quality has benefited and increased over time, allowing for more talented players at this level.

“College hockey is so competitive that any team could beat you on any given night,” Coach Freeman said.  “You’ve got to play at a high level to give yourself a chance to win.”

The Falcons look to extend their unbeaten streak to four games as they travel to Hancock, Michigan to take on the Finlandia Lions on Friday, November 16th at 7 p.m.