Men’s hockey has success over break

Story by Nick Gourdoux

Danielle Ryan

When last semester ended for the students, the UW-Eau Claire hockey team was in the midst of a streak that saw it win only one of nine games. While most of the students left town for the month-long winter break, the hockey team spent much of that time here in Eau Claire, playing some of its best hockey of the season.

Following a four-week period with no games from Dec. 12 to Jan. 8, the Blugolds played four games in a span of nine days, winning three of them. Eau Claire entered the Jan. 8 game at St. Mary’s (Minn.) without a road win on the season. The team entered play with a 0-5-2 record away from Eau Claire. That winless streak, however, came to an end with a 4-2 victory.

“In all, I think the break really helped us because we had probably eight to ten guys dealing with pretty serious injuries, so they had some time to recover,” senior Joe Bluhm said.

The Blugolds then carried the momentum over to their game the next day – another road game, this time in St. Paul, against St. Thomas (Minn.). The 7-3 victory over the Tommies improved Eau Claire’s record to 5-7-3 on the season. The Blugolds then returned home, where they played a pair of games against St. Norbert the following weekend.

Entering the weekend series against St. Norbert, Eau Claire was 3-2-1 at home – considerably better than the road record. Despite the good fortunes at home, the Blugolds couldn’t stop the No. 3 ranked team in the first game, falling 3-2. The loss was just another in a long series of defeats at the hands of St. Norbert – Eau Claire hasn’t defeated its in-state rivals since 1995 and has only tied twice in the 39 games since. Fortunes changed for the Blugolds in the second game of the series, as the team won 5-1.

“Coach (Matt Loen) reminded us all week that Eau Claire hasn’t beaten St. Norbert since 1995,” Bluhm said. “We had a really intense week of practice. We focused on what they like to do, and we went over some strategies and ways to get some scoring opportunities.”

The Blugolds were not handed a break when the schedules were made because just one week after facing the No. 3 team in the nation, Eau Claire had to take on St. Scholastica – the No. 7 ranked team in the nation.

The Blugolds jumped out to a 2-0 lead but then gave up five unanswered goals to eventually lose, 5-2. In the second game of the weekend series, the Blugolds found themselves on the wrong end of a early 2-0 game. The Blugolds managed to find the back of the net, but did so with less than two minutes left in the game.

The 2-1 defeat dropped the Blugolds season record to 6-10-3 overall, and 2-7-3 in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association.

“We have six conference games,” Bluhm said. “Right now we’re in sixth place in the conference, but we’re not that far behind. Our focus is to get that win so we can start moving back up in the standings of the NCHA. If we go 6-0, 5-1 or even 4-2 we could be in pretty good shape for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.”

The Blugolds will play one of their two remaining home games on Friday, Jan. 29, when they host UW-Stevens Point. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m. in Hobbs Ice Arena.

“It’s really a matter of putting a whole game together,” Bluhm said. “All season long we’ve had spurts where we play an unbelievable period and then shut down for the next two. I think our focus is just to keep working hard at what we’re doing and to play our system and put together a full game.”