Blugolds drop series opener against UW-Stout but win 5 hour contest in finale, advancing to WIAC Championship

Szmul wins game in double overtime to advance Blugolds to Championship next weekend
Blugolds celebrate the overtime winner.
Blugolds celebrate the overtime winner.
Photo by Erik Mikalofsky

The UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team punched their ticket to the WIAC Championship early Sunday morning as they defeated the UW-Stout Blue Devils 2-1 in a mini-game and double overtime thriller. 

Despite losing Friday night’s opener 2-1, the Blugolds were able to rally the offense together scoring five goals in regulation and forced the extra overtime periods. 

The extra three overtime periods were used as a rule to determine who would advance to play UW-Stevens Point  next weekend at 7 p.m. March 2  at K.B. Willett Arena. 

The Blugolds outshot the Blue Devils 40 to 12, but were only able to muster up one goal courtesy of fourth-year Ryan Green with assists from graduate student Tyler Love and second-year Trent Heyde.

Despite the amount of offensive chances the Blugolds had in game one, head coach Matt Loen had nothing but praise for the competition his team faced. 

“I thought that was one of our better games we played. We just didn’t score,” Loen said. “They had two goals on the power play and we had one so that was the difference in the game. Their goalie played really well in that game.” 

The Blugolds’ fortunes would be reversed in Saturday night’s game as the offense started to click, scoring five goals to win the regulation game 5-2. 

After Stout got the scoring started, the Blugolds came back with two goals a minute apart, both on the power play. The goals were scored by fourth-year Connor Szmul and third-year Kyler Grundy

They kept the scoring pace up in the second period as fourth-year Sammy Martel notched a goal to make it a 3-1 game. Despite the Blue Devils scoring a power play goal a minute later, the Blugolds forced the mini-game set by scoring two third period goals. 

For the Blugolds, the defense made a big effort in making sure that shots on goal were kept to a minimum as Stout was able to only get 12 shots on goal in game one and 17 shots on goal in game two. 

First-year Tyler Herzberg says that the coaching staff has put an emphasis on generating offense from good defensive play. 

“We take lots of pride in the defensive zone and making our goalie’s job as easy as possible,” Herzberg said. “Coach is always saying offense comes from defense so we take lots of pride in that.” 

As the mini game period began, both teams pushed their limits of endurance. Each team would score a goal each to force sudden death, with the Blugold’s goal coming from second-year Carter Green

The teams would be held scoreless in the first sudden death overtime period, but Herzberg and his teammates knew that they had to stick with it and have things go right in the second period. 

“We just knew that we had to stick with it Saturday night because we were doing the right things but just couldn’t get the bounces,” Herzberg said. “So we will look to just keep doing the same things we have been.” 

The Blugolds stuck to it indeed, as at 12:26 a.m. on Sunday, Szmul received a pass from Herzberg and shot the puck past Stout’s goaltender, ending a five hour game with a Blugold victory. 

Szmul said a big sense of relief came over him and the team as he scored the game winning goal. 

“Obviously it’s very cool to be the one to score a goal in a situation like that,” Szmul said. “But honestly, I was just relieved that it was over and we came out on top.” 

For Szmul and the team, they feel like this win will give them lots of momentum going into next weekend’s WIAC Championship. 

“I think a win like that will really propel us into next weekend and give us some confidence that we can prevail through any type of adversity thrown our way,” Szmul said. 

The Blugolds will look to bring home a WIAC Championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament as they travel to K.B. Willet Arena in Stevens Point to play UWSP this upcoming weekend. 

Mikalofsky can be reached at [email protected]

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