Eau Claire’s hopeful title campaign kicks off Friday

With a miniseries Friday and Saturday against UW-River Falls, the Blugolds have the chance to make a statement

More stories from Parker Reed



Despite not winning the WIAC outright, the Blugolds still have a chance to go deep into the playoffs.

A team of young men have the opportunity to take the first step toward history this weekend.

The UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team ended their regular season on Feb. 11 with a record of 16-6-3, and 5-3 in Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) play. All of those miles driven, sweat accumulated and ice torn up by rampant skaters all added up to a season that head coach, Matthew Loen, said the team is not very satisfied with.

“No disrespect to our team, but I think we’ve had a good season, not a great season,” Loen said. “But, fortunately for us we can make our good season a great season coming up here in the playoffs.”

Eau Claire goaltender, Jay Deo, echoed his coach’s statement, adding that the season started out with some promise.

“The first half of the season we were right on the pace we wanted to be and what our goals were,” Deo said. “In the second half we have stumbled and tripped up a little bit, but we still have some games left to get to where we want to be.”

After placing second in the WIAC standings, the Blugolds have had nothing but time to reflect on their season and prepare for the playoffs.

Blugold Forward, Mac Jansen, said the team has been preparing hard for their upcoming playoff run.

“With the two weeks off, the first week we worked, had conditioning and definitely some tougher days,” Jansen said. “But this week it has been a little lighter load with some more fun mixed in and a lot of laughs. We are just trying to create some positive vibes going into this weekend.”

Now that the regular season has concluded, the Blugolds will compete in a two game miniseries with WIAC rival, UW-River Falls, on both Friday and Saturday in the first round of the post season.

River Falls had a disappointing season in their own right, finishing the year at 12-11-2, and 3-4-1 in WIAC play.

The two previous times these squads played each other this season, Eau Claire managed to come out with back-to-back commanding victories. On Dec. 3, Eau Claire topped River Falls with a score 3-1, and on Jan. 19, the Blugolds once again knocked off the Falcons by a score of 4-2.

Despite having a good deal of prior success against the River Falls club, Eau Claire is not resting on their morals. They have been holding regular practices for the last few weeks in order to refine their physical conditioning and game plan. Jansen said a particular position is planned to be effective against the Falcon defense.

“We like to have our forwards attack their defense, as we have a lot of fast forwards,” Jansen said. “We just want to get the puck deep and attack as much as possible.”

Although the Blugolds have a solid cast of offensive weapons, Deo said the team is preparing for a tough defensive team in River Falls, specifically goaltender, Zach Quinn.

“We know they have really good goaltending and are a sound defensive team,” Deo said. “We know we have to work hard in the offensive zone and keep playing strong defensively like we have been lately.”

Both Deo and Jansen said the key to victory this weekend is a hard work ethic and team unity. They said they aren’t worrying a lot about what River Falls is doing, instead focusing on themselves. They hope doing that will be the first step to achieving their ultimate goal once again.

The last time Eau Claire won the coveted Division III national championship was in 2013, a season that has gone down as one the greatest in program history. Many of the juniors and seniors on the current Eau Claire roster were lured to the university directly after witnessing the team become a powerhouse of D3 hockey.

A season of disappointment can be greatly uplifted by a deep run in the playoffs, and Jansen said they may need a little more than in-depth preparation to make that happen.

“With a little puck luck, and a lot of hard work, I think our team is pretty talented and we think we have what it takes to go all the way,” Jansen said.

The WIAC semifinals at Hobbs Ice Arena on Friday and Saturday will serve as a win-or-go-home scenario for both Eau Claire and River Falls, and both of the games will begin at 7:30 p.m. and will be available to stream on blugolds.com.