It was a rough finish to an otherwise successful regular season for UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey. After falling to UW-Superior on Friday, the third-ranked Blugolds were handed their worst loss of the season at the hands of top-ranked UW-Stevens Point 7-1 on Saturday night in Hobbs Ice Arena.
Three consecutive goals for the Pointers in the first period put Eau Claire in a hole they would never climb out of.
Blugold goaltender Zach Dyment, who is second in saves in the WIAC, struggled mightily in the net before being taken out in the early in the second period.
“He (Dyment) won the WIAC championship for us last year as a freshman and he’ll be the first one to tell you he didn’t have his best game,” Blugolds head coach Matt Loen said. “We’ve never seen him like that before; it’s the nature of the position.”
The Pointers struck first in the opening period thanks to a goal by Colin Raver seven minutes in. Just six minutes later, Stevens Point was celebrating again after Kelly O’Brien found the back of net for his first goal of the night.
Zach Zech snuck one behind Dyment 15 minutes in to put the Pointers up 3-0 in the first period. After O’Brien’s second goal of the night early in the second frame, Steven Quagliata scored Stevens Point’s lone power play goal and ended Dyment’s night.
After scoring just one goal this season before Saturday, O’Brien stole the show with a hat trick in just two periods. His third score of the night gave the Pointers a comfortable 6-1 lead heading into the final period.
Hobbs Ice Arena was nearly packed to capacity to watch two of the best three teams in the country battle it out, but the energy from the crowd would not last long.
“You can’t take away anything from them, they came here with a good game plan,” senior defenseman Johnny Mueller said. “If we get away from playing our game and playing into our strengths, we’re not going to come out successful.”
Scott Munro had the lone bright spot for the Blugolds scoring his sixth goal of the year on a top-shelf rocket 16 minutes into the first period.
With the exception of Munro’s power play-goal, Stevens Point goaltender Connor Ryckman showed why he gives up the least goals per game on average in the conference. While Eau Claire out-shot the Pointers 45-40, Ryckman’s 44 saves kept the Blugolds out of it.
Despite a disappointing finish to the regular season, Eau Claire still has their goals in sight. With two weeks off before the Commissioner’s Cup, the Blugolds will have time to regroup.
“I always preach we play for the season after the season,” Loen said. “I told them (the team) the first week, regardless of where we land in the conference, we want to win the WIAC championship. That’s been our goal from day one and that’s still our goal.”
Eau Claire finishes the regular season 18-5-2 and will have a chance for a redemption tour two weeks from now against UW-Superior with Stevens Point likely waiting in the championship.
“No one can handle the puck like we can, we have guys that can possess the puck way better than anyone we’re going to play against,” Mueller said. “We’re playing every game to win.”