Men’s hockey falls in semifinals
The UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team narrowly missed advancing into the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs on Saturday when fifth-ranked St. Norbert College beat the Blugolds in the Semifinals 2-0.
It was just the fourth time the Blugolds have competed in a NCHA Semifinals in the history of the program. The team’s most recent semifinal game occurred in 2008, which they lost to UW-Stout.
Head Coach Matt Loen said he felt confident that his team had a good chance of winning Saturday’s game after beating 9th-ranked River Falls last weekend.
Yet despite last weekend’s win, Loen said the end of the Blugolds’ regular season left them vulnerable to St. Norbert.
“You know, we were 0-5-2 in the last seven games before playoffs, and I’m disappointed with those last games,” Loen said. “If we’d played better in those last seven, potentially we wouldn’t have faced St. Norberts in the second round, but in finals.”
Both teams put in a tough fight and remained fairly in their struggle to score a goal throughout the game. The Blugolds outshot St. Norbert in the second period 9-7, but the Green Knights came out ahead on overall shots 30-19.
St. Norbert grabbed the first goal of the night on a power play about 12 minutes into the first period, an area where St. Norbert excels, said junior goalie Brandon Stephenson.
“The goal they got was a power play, which is hard to defend—especially against St. Norbert,” he said. “They have a really good power play.”
Stephenson said he thought the team played well and that the game could have gone either way.
“No one was expecting us to win,” Stephenson said. “But I think it’s better to go in as an underdog, because it takes the pressure away. St. Norbert is ranked fifth nationally, so there was a lot of pressure on them to win.”
Stephenson played a little less than 59 minutes in-goal and blocked 28 shots throughout the game. He finished the year with a 2.08 goals-against-average and made a total of 507 saves.
With about a minute left in the game, the Blugolds pulled Stephenson from the net in order to have an extra attacker on the ice, in hopes of tying up the game before the final whistle. But St. Norbert scored on an empty net with less than seven seconds remaining.
Stephenson said that needing to grab one goal made that last minute of the game intense.
“It was hectic on the bench and hectic on the ice,” Stephenson said. “When you pull the goalie the game just elevates and everyone wants to make that one last goal. And being the goalie, it really stinks to be on the bench, because you want to be out there helping your team.”
Overall, Loen said he’s not happy to see the season end.
“It’s disappointing how it turned out,” he said, “especially looking at how we started the season and how we ended it.”
The Blugolds ended their season with a 13-12-3 overall record.