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June 22, 2024

Women’s hockey ends season for record books

March 28, 2022

UWRF women's hockey team
The women’s hockey team celebrates WIAC Championship in Hunt Arena. (Photo by Sam Silver)

While they may have come short of their ultimate goal of winning an NCAA Championship, the UWRF Women’s Hockey team has much to be proud of after completing a wildly successful season, garnering plenty of hardware, and making lots of history along the way.

Where to start with this team? Winners of their first seven games, the Falcons (27-2) came flying out of the gates to begin the season. Then, in what would serve as a preview of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Association (WIAC) Championship, the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds, the UWRF Women’s Hockey team’s archrival, handed the Falcons their first loss of the season 2-0. The early defeat clearly left the Falcons unfazed, as they went undefeated the rest of the way through the regular season and WIAC Tournament, exacting their revenge on the Blugolds in the form of back-to-back wins to close out the regular season and a 6-3 O’Brien Cup victory in the WIAC Championship. Unfortunately, their season came to an end by the hands of Gustavus- Adolphus in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

The Falcons’ 2021-22 roster was littered with star power, and no one in women’s Division III hockey shined brighter than senior forward Callie Hoff. Hoff was absolutely unstoppable this year, and her efforts earned her First Team All-American recognition, WIAC Player of the Year, and the Laura Hurd Player of the Year, the award given to the best player in Division III. Hoff also broke the team record for all-time points and for all-time goals, ending her career with 97 goals and 197 points overall. Joining Hoff in receiving All-American honors is senior forward Abigail Stow, who was also named to the First Team All-American, and senior forward Kora Torkelson and senior goaltender Sami Miller, who were both selected to the Second Team.

No team in women’s Division III hockey had a more lethal attack than the Falcons during the 2021-22 season. They lit the lamp 165 times this year, good for 5.69 goals per game. Within the WIAC Conference, the Falcons had the top-five-point scorers, and six out of the top ten. Senior forwards Callie Hoff, Abigail Stow, Kora Torkelson, sophomore forward Alex Hantge, and junior forward Maddie McCollins rounded out the top five in that order, and senior forward Erin Olson ranked eighth. Hoff, Torkelson, and Stow also finished in the top 10 in scoring for Division III, with Hoff landing in the top spot with 67 points.

The chemistry between these elite players was something to behold, especially between Hoff and Torkelson, who have played together on the Falcons since 2017. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the top goal-scoring team in the nation also orchestrated a potent power play. Torkelson netted 10 power play goals, leading the nation, while Hoff and Stow notched six.

Stout goaltending is a necessity to compete against the top competition, and UWRF certainly got that from Sami Miller. Miller’s resume this season is impressive; she had a 16-2 record, a 1.45 goals against average, a .930 save percentage, and eight shutouts. If there was a comeback player of the year award, Miller would be a prime candidate seeing how she missed all of last season due to injury.

Along with the other eight seniors on the roster, Miller was a leader in the locker room. Miller credited her fellow seniors for helping make this season so special and applauded them for being “very vocal” and the “hardest workers” on the ice. Miller has developed strong bonds with her teammates over her time here, and she points to a “family atmosphere” as the main reason why.

“I look at them as 25 sisters,” said Miller.

The leadership on the team did not stem just from the seniors though. Even the best teams in sports face adversity, and Miller said that everyone on the team leaned on each other. Losing to Eau-Claire early in the season could have set the team back, but Miller said that the team did not panic, and instead took the defeat as a wakeup call. The Falcons had to fend off a bout with COVID-19 during the season, which forced them to play a handful of games with only 15 skaters, and yet, the team did not miss a beat.

A big factor in the team’s strength came from the energy that they brought to every game. Miller said that the team motto was “fire me up,” and that the team constantly boosted each other, especially after their deflating NCAA quarterfinal loss to Gustavus-Adolphus. Miller will be returning for a fifth-year next season along with Stow. Miller said that her eyes are definitely on the NCAA quarterfinal game and that the loss “put a fire under us.”

Head Coach Joseph Cranston, who has coached the UWRF Women’s Hockey team for the entirety of its 23 year existence, has gotten to lead many talented players, such as Carly Moran and former Laura Hurd winner Dani Sibley, but this team was different.

“This was the best team I have coached,” said Cranston.

Cranston touted the improvement of his players over the years and during the season as laying the foundation for such a great season. Fifth-year seniors Hoff and Torkelson demonstrated their development in a major way this past season, especially Torkelson.

“I don’t think I have ever seen a player improve more from their freshman season to their senior season than Torks,” said Cranston.

Cranston labeled his players as a “lunch bucket team,” and said that they never shied away from working hard. He appreciated how well everyone bought into the program and played as a team. One thing that Cranston was particularly pleased with this past season was the top power play they were able to assemble.

“We just had the right pieces of the puzzle there, it was just fun. Sad for our second power play, because they never got a chance, because the first one always scored. That was a big part of our success this year, no one could figure out how to stop our power play,” said Cranston.

After their loss to Gustavus-Adolphus in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, Cranston insisted that his team did not hold their heads.

“We were number one in the country in so many ways, we were the number two seed in the country and it was awesome. They’re great kids, and it was a great accomplishment,” said Cranston.

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