Falcons devour Blugolds, win O’Brien Cup 5-1
March 18, 2023
The UW-River Falls women’s hockey team became WIAC Tournament champions after sacking the UW-Eau Claire Blugolds 5-1. The Falcons and Blugolds have now competed for seven straight WIAC titles, with River Falls winning five in that time. Eau Claire has failed to capture a title since 2019 and looked lost against the ferocious Falcon attack.
Throughout the season, River Falls had outmatched their conference opponents, going 10-0 up until facing Eau Claire in their final two regular-season games. River Falls ranked #1 in the USCHO DIII Women’s Poll but fell to Eau Claire 4-7 on the road. The following day, the Falcons narrowly defeated the Blugolds in an overtime shootout. River Falls became regular-season conference champions, but dropped to #3 in the rankings.
The Falcons and Blugolds ensured their spots in the WIAC semi-finals, and both took care of business before the championship. Eau Claire faced UW-Stevens Point and defeated them 2-0 in both matchups, while the Falcons handled Northland College.
During the regular season, River Falls met Northland three times and led with a total score of 25-0. The Falcons didn’t waver in the playoffs and defeated them twice for a combined score of 16-2. River Falls is now 19-0 all-time against Northland.
Hunt Arena held over 1,000 in attendance for the championship game, its highest all season. The packed house looked on as River Falls confronted Eau Claire for ultimate supremacy over the WIAC.
River Falls opened swiftly and gave their fans an immediate spectacle. Forward Aubrey Nelvin scored the Falcon’s first goal 2:47 into the game. Eau Claire stumbled early and committed multiple penalties, setting up River Falls with three power plays. The Falcons cashed in when Forward Bailey Olson put them up 2-0. River Falls closed the first period, leading by two, with thirteen shots on goal next to Eau Claire’s six.
The Falcons opened period two on their fourth power play and continued to create opportunities deep in Blugold territory. Forward Madison Lavergne cashed a pivotal third goal for the Falcons only 1:23 into the period. The Blugolds appeared as a shell of themselves from past matchups. Through the second period, River Falls had put twenty-six shots on goal, next to fifteen for the Blugolds, and only committed two penalties next to Eau Claire’s five. The Falcons led 3-0 entering the third period and looked in control.
Early into the third period, Madison Lavergne added an insurance goal for the Falcons to take a 4-0 lead. Eau Claire led a desperate comeback attempt and finally put one through Goalie Sami Miller with 13:30 remaining. The Falcons responded, and their leading scorer Maddie McCollins put a grave on Eau Claire’s season. Maddie’s late goal brought her season total to twenty-eight, and she set a new UWRF single-season record for goals scored. The Falcons defeated the Blugolds and posted a final score of 5-1. For the fourth straight year, River Falls won the conference title and the O’Brien cup would stay locked away in Falcon territory.
The Falcons continue to overpower teams on offense, scoring five against the #7 ranked Blugolds. As of March 7, River Falls is the highest-scoring team, with 159 goals in twenty-eight games this season.
On March 5, The NCAA released their DIII Women’s Ice Hockey Championship bracket. The Falcons are of the eleven teams competing and will face off in the quarter-finals against the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties. The Gusties were last year’s championship runner-up and defeated the Falcons in the quarter-finals. In their three meetings this season, River Falls leads 2-1, with an overtime win in game three. The Falcons were scheduled to travel to St. Peter, Minnesota, on March 11, hoping to reverse last year’s early exit and defeat Gustavus for a third time this season.