EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (Blugolds.com) – The UW-Eau Claire men's hockey team took care of business on their end with a 3-0 victory over UW-Superior in the Inaugural WIAC Men's Ice Hockey Championship. Now, much like last year, they will have to wait until Sunday night to see if it was enough for the selection committee to give them a chance to defend their NCAA National Championship.
The fact that the Blugolds (19-8-1) were able to host this game seemed very unlikely heading into the tournament. As the No. 3 seed, they needed to defeat No. 2 UW-Stevens Point on the road and have No. 4 UW-Superior take down the top-seeded UW-River Falls.
The Yellowjackets (11-15-3) swept the Falcons and the Blugolds rallied to win the second game of the series to force a mini game setting up an improbable matchup in the championship game.
Hobbs Ice Center was packed for the matchup and the Blugolds did not disappoint the fans. Jay Deo (Fr.-Langley, B.C./Langley) put on a show in goal and the offense did what they needed to do to electrify the crowd.
Just over eight minutes into the first, Patrick Moore (Fr.-Grand Rapids, Minn./Grand Rapids) had a golden opportunity on a backdoor pass with an open net, but he couldn't quite handle the pass and he missed the net. But just a few seconds later, Moore got another opportunity, and this time he didn't miss. Niko Kapetanovic (Sr.-North Prairie, Wis./Kettle Moraine) made a nice pass from behind the net to Moore who was streaking down the slot and he one-timed a shot past Dayn Belfour, the son of NHL Hall of Fame goalie Ed Belfour.
"They've (Kapetanovic, Moore and Andersen) been producing a lot of offense for us in the second half of the season," Blugold coach Matt Loen said. "It's nice to have a line like that, that we can rely on to get goals because you can't expect everyone to score every night, but they've been pretty consistent all year. They gel with each other and they make each other look good."
At 12:32 of the first, the Blugolds extended the lead, and it was the same offensive line that struck again. This time, Moore picked up the helper as he and Ross Andersen (Jr.-River Falls, Wis./River Falls) came down on a 2-on-1 and he centered a nice pass to Andersen in the slot and Andersen shot it over Belfour's glove for the 2-0 lead.
With just over five minutes to play in the period, the Blugolds were whistled for the first penalty of the game. But just eight seconds later, they were whistled for another one, giving the Yellowjackets a 5-on-3 advantage for one minute, 52 seconds. But Deo and the Blugold penalty killers came up huge, killing off the penalty and giving UW-Eau Claire momentum.
In the second period, it was right around the eight minute-mark when the Blugolds extended the lead to 3-0. Jeff Pauluk (So.-Bloomington, Minn./Jefferson) took a shot from the point that missed wide. Joe Krause (Jr.-Hermantown, Minn./Hermantown) corralled the puck after it bounced off the boards on the other side of the net, standing just above the goal line and snuck a shot through Belfour.
The story the rest of the way was Deo, who was making his second consecutive start after propelling the Blugolds past the Pointers for the first time this season. He entered the game with a remarkable .966 save percentage and 0.78 goals against average. He finished with 42 saves on 42 shots, which will amazingly improve his numbers on the season.
"We haven't really put him in a tough position until last weekend against Stevens Point," Loen said. "He's done well, it's great experience for a freshman and he's a solid goaltender, he's going to be tough to handle for many years here as a Blugold."
There were plenty of penalties in the game, but the Yellowjackets were just 0-for-3 and the Blugolds were 0-for-2 with the man-advantage because the majority of the penalties were matched up between the two teams.
The win gives the Blugolds their second straight WIAC title, which is also their second in program history. The shutout also gives them 10 for the year, which is a school record. The NCAA record is 11, which was set by Middlebury in 2001. Deo notched five of the shutouts and his teammate, Tyler Green (So.-Noblesville, Ind./Noblesville) picked up the other five in an impressive season for the tandem.
Finally, the win gives the Blugolds 19 wins this season, second in school history, topped only by 24 set by the National Championship team from last season.
"Not many times can you say you won you're last game of the year two times in a row," Loen said. "If we don't get a bid, they can say that, and if we do, hopefully they can say that later in March."
The Blugolds will now have to wait until Sunday night to find out if they are selected to the NCAA Division III championship, which gets underway Wednesday. The announcement will be made starting at 9 p.m. on NCAA.com.