Historical weekend for Blugolds
After two wins last weekend, the Blugold men’s hockey team has achieved two firsts in the team’s history: the 2013 Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference men’s ice hockey championship and their first Northern Collegiate Hockey Association title.
The men narrowly avoided overtime against rival UW-Stout on Friday night when senior forward Devin Mantha scored the game-winning goal with one second left on the clock.
The game had been tied 3-3 the entire third period when Mantha scored.
Mantha said he knew how close it was to the buzzer.
“It was incredible, but it was kind of surreal at first because they had to review it with the goal judge and then the referees huddled up,” Mantha said. “So it wasn’t like a big celebration right off the bat, but our bench cleared and we were celebrating, we were waiting in line and they finally recognized the goal. It was pretty cool; a once in a lifetime kind of experience.”
With the win, Eau Claire earned the 2013 WIAC men’s ice hockey championship for the first time in the program’s history.
“It feels awesome to be a part of that history we just created for our program and our team,” Mantha said.
The team started the night strong, scoring three goals in the first period. But Stout came back with a vengeance, scoring the next three goals.
Senior forward Kurt Weston said that was both a blessing and a curse.
“Getting those three quick goals was almost a bad thing for us because it puts into everybody’s head that ‘Oh, this is going to be easy,’” Weston said. “So we take that step back instead of continuing to play with that competitive edge. Which has been kind of a problem for us all year, we’ll get up on a team and take that step back to kind of play down to their level.”
Scoring for the Blugolds were senior forward Jordan Singer, sophomore forward Ross Andersen, Weston and Mantha.
On Saturday night, the Blugolds faced UW-River Falls at home, winning 3-2 and gaining their first NCHA title, though Weston thinks the team could have done better.
“We weren’t playing at where we could play at,” Weston said. “It’s something we call our ‘Saturday Hangover.’ We play really well Fridays, and come out on Saturday and just play average.”
Singer scored the first goal of the night, and the only goal of the first period. Junior forward Mark Pustin followed up with a score of his own in the second period, but River Falls quickly retaliated, netting two goals in a row. The winning score came from Singer, his 16th of the season.
Senior goalie Brandon Stephenson improved to 16-2-2 on the season, breaking a school record for most wins in a season.
This weekend, the Blugolds face St. Scholastica and Superior in their final games of the regular season, and head coach Matt Loen said the team has a lot on the line before going into the playoffs.
“(The wins were) pretty exciting,” Loen said. “But we obviously have St. Scholastica this weekend, and they have an opportunity to catch us with that game.”
Both St. Scholastica and Superior could get third in the NCHA if they win against the Blugolds this weekend so they will be big games for them as well, Weston said.
If the Blugolds lose, they face sharing their NCHA title with St. Norbert. That’s something the team doesn’t want to happen, Loen said.
“We want to own the NCHA title as our own,” he said.
Weston said the team knew the title was on the line this weekend, and he thought they didn’t play their best, he said. But the team can’t afford to keep doing that.
“From here on out it’s going to need to be our best hockey to go anywhere in the playoffs.”