Women’s hockey finds range before showdown

A turbulent 1-2-1 start hasn’t stopped the UW-Eau Claire  women’s hockey team from staying productive and picking up a WIAC athlete of the week nomination in the third weekend of the season.

Goalie Kim Van Brunt picked up those honors after rocking a .944 save percentage on 34 total shots on goal over the weekend — the kind of defense head coach Mike Collins said will be vital to the team’s performance.

“You’re gonna spend a third of the game in your own end so you’ve got to be good there,” Collins said. “It all starts with strong goaltending.”

The Blugolds will take all the defensive help they can get as the freshman-dominated team continues to settle into their positions.

Just under half the team is made up of unfamiliar faces, but the nine newcomers proved they’re having a smooth transition last weekend in a doubleheader against St. Catherine’s University (Minn.), where the Blugolds won 3-0 on the road Friday and lost 2-1 at home Saturday afternoon.

“It’s a process given that a lot of key players are coming from systems with varying degrees of structure,” Collins said. “Our team has a strong community aspect and we’re just breaking them in so to speak.”

In particular, freshman forward Mariah Czech kicked off the weekend with her first collegiate goal, assisted by fellow freshman Paige Dale.

Czech credits her performance in part to the chemistry she’s already found with her teammates.

“The girls have been very welcoming and we’re all getting along,” Czech said. “It’s a different, faster pace game at this level so that helps.”

Though some positions have proven to be key thus far, Collins said he’s rejected the idea of dubbing a star player in his line up.

“I’ve never in 30 years of coaching felt any one player win for us or be blamed for losing,” Collins said. “We don’t have a player that can dominate by themselves so we have to work hard as a committee.”

This weekend presents a new challenge for the Blugolds as they face top-ranked UW-Superior for the first time — another school new to the WIAC league.

Collins said it will be a good indicator of where the Blugolds sit in the WIAC standings, given Superior’s top-ten ranking in division III standings.

“They’re a more skilled team than us,” Collins said. “We’re going to have to capitalize on every opportunity we get.”

Director of Athletics Scott Kilgallon has been watching the team find themselves early on, and said while they have their work cut out for them, it’s nothing the program isn’t prepared for.

“It’s still a young season so it’s tough to tell what will happen … it’ll be a big game for both schools,” Kilgallon said. “But I know coach definitely has his crew ready to play hard.”

The action will begin 7 p.m. this Friday at Hobbs Ice Center and continue Saturday night away.