Blugolds lose to familiar foe in regular season finale

    Women’s hockey loses to River Falls for the fourth time this year, but remain confident looking ahead to rematch this weekend

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    Photo by John Mattison

    The Blugolds will face off against UW-River Falls for the fifth and sixth time this season as they begin WIAC Tournament play this weekend.

    For the last time this regular season, the Blugolds women’s hockey team skated onto the ice at Hobbs Ice Arena to battle UW-River Falls.

    After losing their first three contests by a combined five goals, the Blugolds once again fell short 3-2.

    River Falls did not wait as they came out of the gates firing early. The Falcons found the net early in the first period only 15 seconds after the puck was dropped. When the second period came around, River Falls was once again on the board as they scored just 24 seconds into the period.

    The Blugolds quickly responded as freshman Holly Turnbull scored 3:31 into the second period. A minute later, Paige Dale added another point to the scoreboard as she scored 4:57 into the second to tie the game.

    The Falcons ended up getting past the Blugold defense and skated away with the victory as they went on to score the winning goal 10:18 into the third period.

    Closing games has been a problem lately for the Blugolds, as they have lost their last five games by only one goal. Despite the struggles, the team’s positive attitude and work ethic is what keeps them going, Turnbull said.

    As it has been all season, the Blugolds have demonstrated their newfound success in trusting first-year head coach Erik Strand.

    “We’re right there,” Strand said. “We’ve been doing a great job capitalizing on other teams’ mistakes and taking advantage of our opportunities.”

    Turnbull said she is excited to keep improving as a team and wants to help establish a culture of winning within the Eau Claire women’s hockey program.

    “Bringing the winning culture to the women’s program is all about confidence,” Strand said. “We need our players to change their mindset from thinking they believe in themselves to truly knowing they can be the best.”

    Strand, former men’s hockey assistant coach, said this team reminds him of his team when the men’s program won the national championship.

    “My staff and I can see it every day at practice,” Strand said. “These girls work hard, and I’ve had a wonderful experience coaching them so far this year. I’m excited for our future, but I am still confident we can make history with this group. Our seniors deserve it.”

    The playoff season is a time where the team who wants it more is going to win, Strand said.

    “I told the team it is all going to boil down to who has more heart and who is going to go out and play the hardest,” Strand said.

    During the team’s Monday morning 5:45 a.m. practice, coach Strand said he preached how he hopes at this time next week his team will be at this same spot, as they prepare for their playoff matchup.

    Turnbull said they know what they need to do in order to win.

    “We’re not going to change anything,” Turnbull said. “We know what we need to do. It’s the act of executing it. We always work hard in practice and prepare for our next opponent. Those factors are going to allow us to have the best chance at a victory.”

    The Blugolds will be up against River Falls for the third and fourth consecutive game when they play them Friday and Saturday. Those games will mark the fifth and sixth games against the Falcons this season.

    “It’s tough to win consecutive games against the same team,” Strand said. “Every game against River Falls this year has gotten closer and closer. We need to continue chipping away and gaining confidence. All of us know we’re right there with them.”

    The Blugolds will be the No. 4 seed in the WIAC tournament and will once again face off with the top-seeded Falcons for the semifinal round Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26-27 in River Falls.