Blugold hockey tames the Lions; women gain playoff momentum

The Camaraderie, a well-known and popular bar and restaurant on Water Street, was almost completely destroyed by a fire that swept through the building on the morning of Jan. 7.

Story by Eric Christenson

Over the weekend, the UW-Eau Claire women’s hockey team tamed the Finlandia University Lions (Mich.) in a major way using the chair of a 5-0 shutout Friday night, then the whip of a similar 5-0 shutout Saturday afternoon.

“We just used our quickness and skills,” said senior goalie Morgan Pieper, who achieved 16 saves in Saturday’s game.  “(We) played in their end the whole time and didn’t allow them any scoring opportunities.”

Pieper said that icing Finlandia boosted the team’s confidence, giving them some much needed momentum for next weekend’s first round playoff against UW-River Falls.

Coach Mike Collins said that he’s proud of the team’s accomplishment over the weekend and is looking ahead.

“We don’t score five goals a game all the time,” Collins said.

The chair

Friday night, the Blugolds hardly gave the Lions a chance, achieving 51 shots on goal to the Lions’ eight and scoring on five of them.

Senior forward Toni Simones led scoring with two goals, one in the second period and one in the third, while freshman Sam Knutson, junior Dani Kerr and junior Casey McMullen each tallied one.

Eau Claire stood up in the second period with a three-goal scoring run in an eight-minute span.

McMullen said it was an effective way to end the season and gear up for what’s ahead.

“We really wanted to make a statement.” McMullen said, “That last game didn’t matter; we had already made playoffs, but we wanted to have some momentum going into River Falls.”

The whip

Saturday was Pieper’s and Simones’s last home game at Hobbs Ice Center, and while Pieper said it was a poignant moment, she tried to focus more on the game and the playoffs ahead.

“You know, it’s do or die in the playoffs either way so you give everything you have,” she said.  “You have to focus on those games right in that moment.”

The Blugolds again dramatically outshot the Lions in Saturday’s game, 51-16.

Sophomore Emily Larson and junior Emily Haluska each scored two goals and Kerr scored one for another 5-0 shutout.  Both of Larson’s goals were on two of Eau Claire’s seven power play opportunities.

In Pieper’s last career home game, she had all 16 saves for the effective shutout.

She said that even though the start of the season was a bit shaky due to lost seniors and a young team, they ended well.

“We really came on, and we’re playing well at the right time of the season.” Pieper said. “I think that’s the really important part.  We basically capped off the season doing really well.”

The playoffs

After hooking these two shutouts on their belt, the Blugolds travel to River Falls next weekend to take on the Falcons in the first round of the playoffs.

Collins said the Finlandia games are very different from the ones they face in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’re going from one spectrum to the other,” Collins said.  “You can’t make a lot of mistakes and beat River Falls.”

Eau Claire and River Falls faced off earlier in January resulting in a loss and a tie for the Blugolds, but McMullen said that they played strong, even without a win.

“We had a great weekend against them,” she said.  “We’re pretty excited, and it’s a great team to be playing because we always get up for that game.”

The River Falls Falcons are seeded first in the NCHA Tournament compared to the Blugolds’ eighth, but McMullen said the team retains their confidence.

“It’s always a huge rivalry for us,” McMullen said. “If I could pick anyone, that’d be who I’d want to play.”