Hockey wins, ties to end regular season

Story by Ashley Hofer

During the final games of the regular season, the UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team recorded a win and a tie to propel them into the Peters Cup quarterfinals. The weekend’s results kept the Blugolds as the No. 6 seed, meaning the team will next face No. 3 UW-River Falls.

“I like the way we competed,” coach Matt Loen said. “We competed at a high level in both games.”

Friday night the Blugolds traveled to challenge fourth-ranked St. Scholastica (Minn.). The Saints scored a goal to go up just 25 seconds into the first period, but freshman Eric OHearn netted his first goal of the season late in the second period to tie the game.

St. Scholastica went up by one again 8:47 minutes in to the third period, but freshman Isaiah Bennis, unassisted, scored one for the Blugolds a mere 10 seconds later. Junior Ross Janecyk shot the last goal of the evening at the 12:56 minute mark to give the team the lead and the 3-2 win.

Senior Joe Bluhm said Friday’s win was a boost for the team.

“St. Scholastica is one of the top five teams in the nation,” he said. “Any win going into the playoffs is good.”

On Saturday, the Blugolds celebrated “Senior Night” and honored the team’s nine seniors before the matchup against UW-Superior. While the first period of that game closed scoreless, it was the Yellowjackets who stung first, giving Superior the 1-0 lead 42 seconds into the second. Eau Claire wouldn’t stay down long, though, as freshman Jordan Singer, assisted by sophomore Tyler Romasco and senior Brant Marple, scored on a power play four minutes later. Then, at the 7:03 mark, the Blugolds went up by one with a goal by freshman Bryce Wilcox.

The high-scoring second continued when Superior earned a goal to tie the game. The Blugolds took the lead again, though, when freshman Kurt Weston found the back of the net with just over a minute left in the period. Assisting on the play were Marple and Bluhm, giving them their third and second assists of the night, respectively.

The Blugolds couldn’t hold onto the lead, though, and found themselves tied when the Yellowjackets responded with a goal late in the third. The teams went into a five-minute overtime, but the defenses held up and handed the teams a 3-3 tie for the last game of the regular season.

Bluhm said the team wasn’t very pleased with the result, as it prevented them from moving into fifth place in the conference standings. But the team showed it could score goals when it needed to and displayed its powerful energy, he said. This, combined with Friday’s win, made for a successful weekend, Bluhm said.

The Blugolds finish the 2009-10 regular season with a 4-10-4 record in Northern Collegiate Hockey Association play and 8-13-4 overall. The team discussed the ending of the regular season, Loen said. The results didn’t truly reflect its performance, he said, adding the Blugolds beat tough teams such as Augsburg College, Gustavus Adolphus and Stout – twice.

“We’ve had ups and downs,” he said. “Our record doesn’t show how we’ve played. . We just need to find our rhythm.”

Bluhm said he agreed the Blugold team has played with some inconsistency, noting there were times when the team looked “unbelievable” and times when it didn’t.

Being the No. 6 team, the Blugolds will have to travel to River Falls for round one of the Peters Cup on Friday and Saturday. The last time Eau Claire played the Falcons, the team lost 3-6. Before that, the Blugolds came away with a loss and a tie against River Falls.

Bluhm said previous games against the Falcons were a lot closer than scores let on. For instance, during the first game River Falls scored a goal within the last 30 seconds of the third period to earn the win. This gives the team confidence heading into the weekend, he said.

“We feel we can definitely match up with them well,” Bluhm said.

This time around, Loen said there will be two main keys for victory: controlling the Falcons’ forwards and maintaining concentration to play well and avoid penalties.

“(River Falls’ forwards) are some of the best in the league,” he said. “The key to success is to keep them off the scoreboard.”