EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) — The second-ranked UW-Eau Claire men's hockey team is out to do something no other team has done in school history, win the Peters Cup as the NCHA champion.
The Blugolds (20-4-2) took their first step in that direction Saturday night when they welcomed UW-River Falls to a packed Hobbs Ice Center. The Blugolds got on the board first and never looked back, handing the Falcons (13-11-4) a 7-2 loss in the semifinal matchup.
With the Blugolds not playing in almost two weeks, they didn't waste any time getting out to a lead. At 3:37, Daniel Olszewski (Jr.-Janesville, Wis./Craig) put the puck past UW-River Falls goaltender Scott Lewan for the 1-0 lead.
With just under two minutes remaining in the first period, Chris Heineman (So.-New Boston, Mich./Traverse City Central) scored the first of his two goals on the night on a shot from the point that got past a screened Lewan.
The Blugolds took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission, but the Falcons cut the lead in half just 2 minutes, 14 seconds into the second period. Blugold defenseman Alex Olson (Jr.-Devils Lake, ND/Devils Lake) was whistled for an interference call at 1:59 and the Falcons capitalized on the power-play.
Midway through the second period, Mark Pustin (Jr.-Northridge, Cal./Granada Hills) scored what proved to be the game-winner to give the Blugolds back the two-goal lead. The rest of the second period saw plenty of penalties on both sides as the referees tried to keep the game from getting chippy.
At 17:55, Jack Callahan (So.-Red Bank, NJ/Christian Brothers Academy) gave the Blugolds a huge goal on a 4-on-3 power-play to give them a 4-1 lead heading into the second intermission. The three-goal lead would be too much for the Falcons to overcome in the final frame.
In the third period, Heineman scored his second goal of the game on the power-play, and the second goal of the night for the Blugolds with the man-advantage. Jordan Singer (Sr.-Lino Lakes, Minn./Centennial) scored at 13:24 to give UW-Eau Claire a commanding 6-1 lead.
The Falcons would score on a rebound at 14:44 to cut the lead to 6-2, but with less than two minutes left, it was Singer again who scored his second goal of the night and his 20th of the season.
Brandon Stephenson (Sr.-Saline, Mich./Saline) made 21 saves in the third period and finished with 42 for the game to pick up his 18th victory of the season. The Blugolds finished with 41 shots-on-goal and the Falcon's goalie, Lewan, finished with 34 saves.
Despite all the penalties, the Blugolds were just 2-for-6 on the power-play, while the Falcons were 1-for-3 on the man-advantage. The two teams combined for 18 penalties and a staggering 60 minutes of penalty time, but many of the penalties were coincidental.
In the other NCHA semifinal matchup, St. Norbert College defeated the College of St. Scholastica 2-1 at Cornerstone Community Center in De Pere, Wis. The Blugolds were 2-0-1 against the Green Knights this season, with the most recent game finishing in a 3-0 Blugold victory.
As the top seed in the conference, the game will be next Saturday night at Hobbs Ice Center at 7 p.m. The winner will receive an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The loser will have to wait until Sunday, March 3 when the at-large bids are announced to see if their season will continue.
It is the first time UW-Eau Claire will play in the NCHA championship. The Green Knights have won the previous three Peters Cup Championships and eight of the last ten.