Eau Claire (WQOW) -- The UW-Eau Claire men's hockey team is looking forward to the opportunity to chase an NCAA Division III national championship.
It was a disappointing loss for UWEC Saturday night at Hobbs Ice Center in the NCHA Peters Cup Championship, but the Blugolds got their at-large bid to the NCAA's Sunday night.
UWEC is back at Hobbs Wednesday for an NCAA first round game with St. John's (MN), the Blugolds' first appearance in the NCAA tourney since 1989. UWEC players and coaches say say not having to wait around to play until Saturday is a positive.
"It's never going to be easy and we didn't expect it to be,"says Blugolds senior forward Jordan Singer, "and so we're fine with playing a Wednesday game, we're just going to take it one game at a time."
"With a long week of practice," UWEC senior goalie Brandon Stephenson says, "it gets a little bit lackadaisical with not playing the whole week, waiting for the game, but you know with a game on Wednesday, it kind of splits it up, so you know, we gotta get back to work today, which we did, tomorrow's going to be another hard practice and then we'll be gametime Wednesday, so hopefully it'll work out better."
Blugolds head coach Matt Loen says, "I thought we were a little complacent, and now, you know we can have a quick turnaround, have two practices and play Wednesday, and then two practices again and play Saturday."
UWEC hosted St. John's on January 4, with the Blugolds beating the Johnnies, 5-1, but that game was scoreless after one period. The St. John's goaltender is freshman Saxton Soley, the Eau Claire Memorial H.S. grad, who is 10-1-1 in his last twelve starts.
"Saxton's a good goalie," says UWEC junior defenseman David Donnellan, another ECM alum, "he's going to make that first save so we got to get in and get rebounds and put the pucks away."
Asked whether there's been any chirping between the Memorial guys this week, Donnellan says, "No, not too much."
"I'm sure Saxton's going to be amped up to play," says another ECM grad, Blugolds senior forward Andrew McCabe, "coming back home first round playoff game, so I'm sure we're going to get his best game. So we have to be on our game and be ready to go."
The Blugolds and Johnnies drop the puck at 7:00 P.M., Wednesday. The winner moves onto the second round and will play at St. Norbert, Saturday night. The winner of that game goes to the NCAA Championships in Lake Placid, New York.
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