Women’s hockey halted in playoffs by Concordia
As the puck hit the back of the net, sophomore goalie Mara Stormer hunched down in a heap, and the team’s fate was sealed.
The cool, brisk air in Hobbs Arena made the end result seem even more bitter.
Hosting a home playoff series for the first time, UW-Eau Claire took the first game against Concordia 5-3 and needed just a tie in their second contest to advance to the Final Four of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) tournament. With the game tied at 4-4 and only 35 seconds remaining in the third period, it seemed like the senior class would reach that milestone for the first time.
Coach Mike Collins clearly knew what was at stake and said the team was not holding on for a draw.
“I told them, ‘we’re not playing for a tie, we’re playing to win the game,’” Collins said. “We went out there with the same goals: to outshoot, out-chance and create offensive opportunities.”
Just when it appeared the Blugolds had the series wrapped up and were going to send their opponents home with their season over, Concordia had one last answer. At the 19:27 mark in the third period, Concordia was able to find the back of the net and hold on for a 5-4 lead. In the process, they forced a 20-minute “mini-game” (no sudden death) to decide the winner.
Eau Claire controlled the mini-game and out-shot their opponents 13-7, but came up empty handed.
“I thought we dominated the play … we were sitting back by no means,” Collins said. “We had a lot of good opportunities, but we missed the net with a lot of shots that were very close.”
With the mini-game tied at 0-0, the game went into a sudden-death 20-minute period, where the first team to score would advance to the next round. The Blugolds, who had been battling a series of injuries down the stretch, seemed to finally have it catch up to them. Just over two minutes in, a Concordia player got a rebound in front of the Eau Claire goal and put it top shelf for the score.
And like that, just as soon as it seemed Eau Claire would advance, their season was over.
Senior captain Kristin Faber thought the anticipation for the team going into the second game after winning the first may have hurt more than it helped.
“I think everyone was excited, and it might have been a little over-excited as we kind of went back and forth with goals in the first period,” Faber said. “Overall I think we were pretty focused and just kind of fell apart there at the end.”
In the first game, Eau Claire fell behind 1-0 after the first period, but came back with four unanswered goals on their way to a 5-3 victory.
Faber thought the difference in the second game was the way Concordia answered every goal the Blugolds scored, and that it eventually caught up with the team in that game.
“I think that just kind of took a toll on us, and eventually they got one with 30 seconds left in the third,” Faber said. “I think that kind of took the wind out of our sails and it kind of carried into the mini-game.”
Eau Claire finished the regular season with a 14-7-5 record and will lose three seniors —Kelli Johnson, Christine Dickinson and Faber — to graduation, all three of whom finished in the top five on the team in points.
“This year (the seniors) did an outstanding job in all facets of the game,” Collins said. “They all played a ton this year … you don’t necessarily replace those kids, you just hope other players step up and try to fill the same roles.”