The Blugolds earn the second seed in WIAC and break school record
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The Blugolds women’s hockey team makes great strides as they break UW-Eau Claire record, yet falls short of winning the WIAC championship
The UW-Eau Claire women’s hockey team had a challenging weekend as they played games both Friday and Saturday. The Blugolds made history as they defeated UW-River Falls on Friday night with an end score of 3-1, setting the program record for wins in a single season. They then fell short at Saturday night’s game playing River Falls again with a final score of 3-2.
The games had different outcomes but both teams refused to give in without a fight. The first game was an astounding victory for Eau Claire as they won their sixteenth game of the season and set the school record. At the end of the final game, the women’s hockey team earned the second seed in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) tournament.
Friday night’s game was the second time that UW-Eau Claire and UW-River Falls competed this season.
The teams last played in November 2016, where the Blugolds beat the Falcons 4-2.
Freshman goaltender, Erin Connolly, was a key player in the outcome of the game as she blocked the Falcons on 5 of 6 power plays and saved 25 of 26 shots on goal.
“I’d say my favorite part was just how we all came together. We’ve beaten River Falls once before so we knew that we had to step it up because they were going to come out flying,” Connolly said. “We knew what we had to do and we all played as a team tonight.”
The beginning of the first period showed a lot of energy and determination for the Blugolds as Elizabeth Bauer intercepted a pass in the offensive zone. She then passed the puck to an open number which happened to land in front of Kelly Knetter who instantly shot and scored for the goal.
The Blugolds maintained the lead throughout the first period as they continued to hold off the Falcons.
Only six minutes into the second period, Emily Bauer received a long pass for a breakaway and did not hesitate to shoot for the goal, putting Eau Claire at a 2-0 lead and bringing the crowd at its feet.
Early in the third period at the 3:53 mark, Courtney Wittig made her sixteenth goal of the season, finding the puck in front of the net on a rebound and shooting to score putting the Falcons down by three.
The Falcons fought back late in the game on a power play as Hailey Herdine of River Falls shot to score the goal leaving the end score at 3-1 and setting the school record for wins in a game.
“It’s another step, quite frankly, that could be the biggest win in the program’s history,” Head Coach Erik Strand said. “This is the first time I think that we have had home ice in a playoff series ever.”
UW-River Falls only had two losses this season, both of which were games against Eau Claire.
The Blugolds fought hard for their victory and record. Meanwhile, players were excited to compete again against the Falcons the following day for the regular-season finale.
The Saturday game played differently than their previous game on Friday.
This time, the Falcons set the pace for the majority of the game both in shots on goal and in possession.
In the first period, the Blugolds made their first goal at the the 13:31 mark as Kelly Knetter scored on the power play with an assist from Holly Turnbull. After consecutive changes of puck possession, Eau Claire was able to keep their lead going into the second period.
River Falls scored two goals, putting the score at 2-1 with the Falcons in the lead. The first Falcon goal was scored by Hailey Herdine and the second by Carly Moran on the power play.
After a dominating second period by the Falcons, the Blugolds still struggled to find the back of the net as the Falcons scored their third goal at the 11:14 mark.
The Blugolds made their last stride as Claudia Gagnon found the back of the net in the third with under a minute remaining in the game, to put the score at 3-2.
Head Coach Erik Strand said in recap of the game the team fought a lot of adversity in the game and that River Falls was one of the most difficult teams they have played this season.
“Even though the outcome wasn’t what any of us wanted, I can tell you I could not be more proud of the effort they still put in,” Strand said. “It was monumental circumstances and a tremendous amount of pressure.”
The Blugolds will host UW-Stevens Point on Feb. 24 and 25 at Hobbs Ice Arena for the WIAC semifinals.