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Women's hockey team posts season for the record books

April 8, 2022

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 on March 12.

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 the honors of First Team All-American, First Team All-WIAC, 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. Speaking on her individual accolades, Hoff said that she was “surprised, but humbled and honored” to receive them, and also went on to say that she views them as “team awards.” 

Joining Hoff in receiving All-American honors is senior forward Abigail Stow, who was also named a 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 Hoff, Stow, and 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, both returning for a fifth year after losing out on a full season last year due to COVID-19. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the top goal-scoring team in the nation, one made up of high-octane players with plenty of experience skating together, also orchestrated an incredibly potent power play. Torkelson netted 10 power play goals to lead the nation this season, while Hoff and Stow notched six, and the team converted on a nation-high 35.64% of their power plays. 

“We just moved the puck so fast and we always knew where each other’s sticks would be on the ice,” said Stow. 

The Falcons were also dangerous when they were short skaters. They netted 13 shorthanded goals, five coming from Hoff and three coming from Hantge. No other team broke double digits for shorthanded goals, a true testament to the elite skating and scoring ability of the Falcons.

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 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 everyone on the Falcons were able to lean on each other for support. 

“Whether they had a C on their chest or not, everyone was a leader,” said Stow.

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. A big factor in the team’s strength and resiliency 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. 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. Everyone wants to knock off the top dog, and the Falcons were able to effectively manage the pressure of having that kind of target on their backs by keeping themselves cool and collected.

“We looked at every matchup as just another game, we would make sure that we didn’t hold our sticks too tight,” said Torkelson.

Head Coach Joseph Cranston has coached the UWRF Women’s Hockey team for the entirety of its 23 year existence, leads the WIAC in all-time wins and winning percentage, and ranks fourth in Division III for all-time wins. Over his tenure, he 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.

Torkelson was a productive player right when she arrived at UWRF, but her numbers from her previous seasons pail in comparison to what she was able to accomplish this year. For Torkelson, the key for her fantastic breakout year was simply realizing the full extent of her capabilities.

“I have been building up my confidence throughout my time here, I always knew I was a good hockey player,” said Torkelson.

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. Hoff, Torkelson, Stow and Miller also lauded the dedication and effort that the team brought to every practice and game, especially the underclassmen.

“They knew they played an important role,” said Hoff

Unsurprisingly, one of the things 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.  

 Looking ahead to next year, 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.” Likewise, Stow is setting her aim on getting the team back to the frozen four. Despite losing premier players in Hoff and Torkelson, there is still plenty of talent waiting in the wings, so do not sleep on the 2022-2023 UWRF Women’s Hockey Team.

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