Staying Defensive

    Blugold men’s hockey continues strong defensive play over winter break


    Photo by SUBMITTED

    While most students were at home relaxing over winter break, the UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team was hard at work.

    The team won four of its six games over break and ranks No. 9 in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll going into the spring semester.

    The Blugolds (12-5-2) made itsfirst appearance after their shortened break on Jan. 8, beating Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.) 9-1. Head coach Matt Loen credits the team’s success to defensive play, praising assistant coach Bob Thorp for his expertise.

    “(Thorp) has been doing a great job defensively,” Loen said. “He’s a defensive guru.”

    The Blugolds allowed 13 goals in the six games they played. Adam Knochenmus, a junior forward on the team, said goalie Tyler Green has played very well lately.

    “(He) has been playing unbelievably for us,” Knochenmus said. “He’s given us a chance to win every night.”

    Green’s save percentage did not fall below 90 percent all break, averaging almost 34 saves in five games.

    Knochenmus, on the offensive side, has been dominant this season. The Roseau, Minn. native leads the team with 16 goals and has racked up 12 assists this season. Four of those assists came in an important win against conference rival No. 5 UW-Steven’s Point. The game ended in overtime, with the Blugolds coming out on top 5-4.

    Jeff Pauluk, a senior from Bloomington, Minn. and team captain, said beating the Pointers was crucial at this point in the season.

    “That was a pretty big win for us as far as the conference goes,” Pauluk said. “We just have to find ways to score a little bit more in our games.”

    Offensive play is certainly something the Blugolds will be focusing on entering the final stretch of the season. Loen said the offense has been somewhat lacking lately, despite beating Gustavus Adolphus by eight goals. With just six games remaining, the team has its eyes set on the NCAA tournament.

    Only 11 teams of the 74 that play Division III hockey get a bid to the national tournament every season. Since the WIAC isn’t one of the seven conferences whose winner gets an automatic bid, the Blugolds are left to fight for four remaining spots.

    “That’s the part that’s frustrating as a coach,” Loen said. “You think you have one of the top teams in the nation but you don’t even get into the tournament.”

    Pauluk said he believes the team needs to win at least four of its last six games, although winning all six would increase their chances, especially considering a team’s record over the last 25 percent of the season is part of the primary selection criteria, according to

    The Blugolds have important conference matchups ahead of them, as they will face other WIAC teams in four of their last six games.
    “We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Loen said.