Saturday afternoon’s action at Hobbs Ice Center was par for the course for UW-Eau Claire women’s hockey.
The Blugolds continued their dominance of the bottom two teams in the four-team WIAC, finishing a combined 6-0 against UW-Stevens Point and UW-Superior with a 9-1 win against the Pointers in the second leg of a home-and-home.
“This team so far has done nearly everything it’s supposed to do,” Eau Claire coach Erik Strand said. “They’ve put themselves in a spot where we control our own destiny.”
Emma Peterson opened the scoring just 55 seconds in and five minutes later Eau Claire was up three after Holly Turnbull and Courtney Wittig each pegged the top corner. An additional goal from Wittig, two by Hanna Zavoral and one each from Bree Osborne, Morgan Zirbel and Elizabeth Bauer clinched the blowout and set up a crucial regular season-ending home-and-home the next two weekends.
For the sixth straight season the Blugolds close the regular season with back-to-back bouts against UW-River Falls, their main competition in the league. Eau Claire travels to Hunt Arena next Saturday and hosts the Falcons at Hobbs the following Saturday.
With their win against the Pointers. Eau Claire’s bid for a WIAC regular season crown is still alive. River Falls is undefeated in conference play through seven games, so 6-1 UWEC needs a sweep to earn the first seed in the upcoming WIAC Tournament.
“That’s what they come here for,” Stand said of his players. “Regardless of the outcomes, those are so special to compete in. … For us, it helps our recruiting down the road because this is what you’re going to come into. When you’re in the moment, I can’t tell you how excited I am.”
The Blugolds’ only conference loss came at the hands of the Falcons back in November, as Bella Wagner’s goal midway through the second period lifted River Falls to a 2-1 triumph at Hobbs. There’s been plenty of development from both sides since that meeting.
“Looking at us and Falls, we’re both completely different teams,” Wittig said. “We like to save them for last because that’s when both teams are at their best.”
The Falcons carry over motivation from 2017-18, as Eau Claire upset River Falls in a double-overtime thriller in last year’s WIAC title game to earn its first conference crown. Both teams are ranked in the latest USCHO poll – River Falls at No. 4 and Eau Claire at No. 10.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Zavoral said of the rivalry carrying over from last year. “Every time we go play River there’s always that rivalry. We always kind of feel like the underdogs because of what that program has done and built. We’re excited for the challenge.”
No matter what happens in the final two games, odds are the teams will see each other again in the tournament considering their success against the Pointers and Yellowjackets. That takes away a bit of the stress, but a first-ever regular season WIAC crown has meaning for the Blugolds.
“Hopefully we get a banner and not them,” Wittig said.