Hockey team begins season with a win

Renee Rosenow

In hockey, you just know things are clicking when you post a 4-1 victory against a Minnesota team with a Canadian-heavy roster.

And for the Blugold men’s hockey team, things were clicking on Saturday against The College of St. Scholastica (Minn).

After fighting to a 0-0 stalemate in the first period, Eau Claire jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second and tacked on three more points in the final period to claim the 4-1 season-opening victory.

“It was well-played I thought,” second-year coach Matt Loen said after the game. “We had a few breakdowns, but you expect that the first night.”

Junior Joe Bluhm registered the team’s first goal early in the second period off assists from junior Tyler Trudell and senior Jesse Vessel. The goal ended a nearly-27-minute scoring drought in which both teams missed close shots and failed to capitalize on numerous power plays.

Freshman Larry Kincaid, an Alaskan import, upped the ante early in the third period with a goal off assists from sophomore John Kearns and senior Bryan Plaszcz. St. Scholastica narrowed the lead with a powerplay goal about four minutes later, but junior Nicholas Kuqali scored an unassisted goal two minutes afterward to re-extend Eau Claire’s lead to two points.

Then, junior Brant Marple may have simply rubbed salt in St. Scholastica’s dagger wound with a last-minute goal off assists from freshman Nic Weight and senior Sean Garrity. The goal sealed the 4-1 victory and sent Eau Claire into the season with a 1-0 record for the third straight year.

“St. Scholastica’s a really tough team,” Kincaid said. “They tried to outwork us but we came out stronger than them.”

Saturday night’s win over St. Scholastica – whose 27-man roster boasts 19 Canadian imports – came after the Blugolds’ first-ever trip to the national championship semifinals last season.

Senior Andrew Johnson, who led the team in scoring last season, is back this year, as is Garrity and senior Greg Petersen, who led the team in assists last season with 15 and 13, respectively.

“We got everyone back pretty much and we added some talented kids,” Loen said, “so hopefully that will put some more goals on the board because we’re good defensively.”

Kincaid said this year’s roster is strong, and added the team’s current goal is to make it back to the semifinals and beyond.

“It’s really hard to make the lineup,” he said. “We’ve got guys sitting out that should be playing. We have a good group of guys.”

Saturday’s win improved Eau Claire’s all-time record against St. Scholastica to 39-17-6, as well as put the team second in the conference standings, just behind UW-Stout, which is already at 2-0 this season.

The Blugolds play away Friday at St. John’s University (Minn.) and won’t play at home again until Friday, Nov. 7.