EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) – Last season the UW-Eau Claire men's hockey team started wearing their road blue helmets with their home white uniforms. It seemed like a small change, but it was a change they road all the way to their first ever NCAA National Championship. This weekend, against UW-Superior, the Blugolds once again wore the road blue helmets at home, and much like last year, they were quite successful. Coincidence or not, the Blugolds came from behind Saturday night and defeated the Yellowjackets 6-2 at Hobbs Ice Center.
The win also gave head coach Matt Loen his 100th career victory. He is the winningest coach in school history and now holds a 100-76-13 record in his seventh season.
Before the game, the Blugolds (16-4-1, 5-2-1) introduced the nine seniors, all of which have made major contributions to the team in their career. Coming off their eighth shutout of the season on Friday night, it was actually the Yellowjackets (7-13-3, 2-6-2) that struck first.
At 7:29 of the first period, UW-Superior put home a rebound to take their first, and only lead of the two game series. That was the only goal of the period, and there was only one penalty in what turned out to be a rather uneventful period. The second and third period more than made up for that, however.
The Blugolds evened things up early in the second period at 1:21 on the power-play. Ross Andersen (Jr.-River Falls, Wis./River Falls) took the initial shot that actually got through UW-Superior goalie Drew Strandberg and was just sitting on the goal line. Niko Kapetanovic (Sr.-North Prairie, Wis./Kettle Moraine) came in from the circle and popped the puck into the back of the net to tie it up 1-1.
Midway through the second period, with the referee's arm up for a delayed penalty, Brian Nehring (Sr.-Hopedale, Mass./Milford) took a shot from the left circle that was stopped by Strandberg but Chris Heineman (Jr.-New Boston, Mich./Traverse City Central) picked up the rebound and rifled a shot high on the glove side for the 2-1 lead.
On the ensuing power-play for the delayed penalty, the Blugolds struck again, just 40 seconds later at 11:25. This time it was Andersen who put home a rebound after David Henry's (Fr.-Foster City, Cal./Junipero Serra) initial shot was stopped by Strandberg.
After only one penalty in the first period, there were 10 penalties to go along with the three Blugold goals for an exciting period. The Yellowjackets made things interesting in the third period.
Four minutes, 36 seconds into the third, UW-Superior struck on the power-play to cut the lead to just 3-2 with plenty of time remaining in the game. But at 8:21, the Blugolds got a fortuitous bounce.
Heineman whiffed on a shot from the slot that pulled Strandberg out of position and there was just enough bounce in the puck as it went forward and off of Joe Krause's (Jr-Hermantown, Minn./Hermantown) skate and into the open net for the 4-2 lead.
Less than a minute later, at 9:14, Jack Callahan (Jr.-Red Bank, N.J./Christian Brothers Academy) took a shot from the right point and Nehring was in a perfect spot in front of the net to get a stick on the puck and deflect it past Strandberg and the Blugolds led 5-2.
The Blugolds put the game away at 13:38 when Adam Knochenmus (Fr.-Roseau, Minn./Roseau) took a perfect feed from Krause in the left corner and buried it from the slot with a man bearing down on him. Daniel Olszewski (Sr.-Janesville, Wis./Craig) also picked up an assist on the goal.
Tyler Green (So.-Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) made 42 saves on 44 shots as the Blugolds outshot the Yellowjackets 55-44. UW-Superior was whistled for six penalties, while UW-Eau Claire finished with seven. The Yellowjackets were 1-for-6 on the power-play while the Blugolds finished 2-for-6.
With the win, coupled with a loss from UW-Stevens Point to UW-Stout, the Blugolds have moved into first place in the WIAC. They hold a two-point lead over the Pointers and a one point lead over UW-River Falls who was idle this weekend.
The Blugolds will travel to Stevens Point next weekend for a huge weekend series that will have major implications on the WIAC regular season championship. The games are set for Friday and Saturday night and both are set to start at 7 p.m. at the K.B. Willet Arena.