It will be a wild finish to the NCHA regular season this weekend.
UW-River Falls let a golden opportunity to pull within two points of first place UW-Stout slip through their fingers when the Falcons lost to St. Scholastica, 4-2, Saturday night at Hunt Arena. Stout also lost Saturday, 4-2 to UW-Superior.
One night earlier the Falcons defeated the Yellowjackets, 5-3, and the Blue Devils topped the Saints, 4-1.
The Falcons face Stout in a home-and-home series this weekend, tied with St. Norbert for second place in the league standings with 17 points. The Blue Devils are four points ahead of both teams with 21 points. Also in the mix is Superior with 15 points and St. Scholastica with 13.
The Falcons host the Blue Devils Friday (Feb. 9) at 7:05 p.m. while the two teams hit the ice in Menomonie Saturday, Feb. 10 at 7:30 p.m. Also this weekend, St. Norbert plays last place Lake Forest twice and Superior plays St. Scholastica twice. There are several scenarios that could affect the final league standings, depending on which teams win and the scores of games.
Two things are known: The Falcons need to beat Stout twice this weekend to have any chance of winning or tying for the NCHA title. The Falcons also need to finish in the top four of the NCHA standings in order to host a first round playoff series at Hunt Arena Feb. 16-17.
Last Friday against Superior, the Falcons scored three third period goals to snap a 2-2 tie and defeat the Yellowjackets, 5-3.
Tyler Kostiuk opened the scoring with an assist from Wade Harstad just over seven minutes into the game but the Jackets answered three minutes later to tie the score, 1-1.
Superior took a 2-1 lead with a power play goal at the 12:31 mark of the second period after the Falcons' Cory Baldwin took a five minute major penalty for checking from behind. Jared Sailer then netted a power play goal at 15:02 of the second, assisted by Harstad and Jim Henkemeyer, to tie the score again, 2-2.
The Falcons took the lead for good 32 seconds into the final period when Derek Hansberry scored his team leading 17th goal of the season. He was assisted on the power-play goal by TJ Dahl.
The Falcons went ahead 4-2 at 9:22 of the third when Jordan McIntyre scored a short-handed goal, assisted by Mitch Kerns.
Superior pulled to within 4-3 with just under eight minutes remaining but Harstad ended the scoring with a power play goal at the 15:44 mark, assisted by Sailer and Kostiuk.
Falcon goalie AJ Bucchino made 27 saves while Superior goalie Chad Beiswenger stopped 31 shots. The Falcons were 3-for-9 on the power play while Superior was 1-for-6.
"Special teams were a big difference in the game," Falcon coach Steve Freeman said. "We scored three power-play goals and a short-handed goal. It was a good win against a quality opponent."
Saturday night at Hunt Arena, St. Scholastica opened up a 2-0 lead and used the advantage to earn a 4-2 win over the Falcons and stay in the hunt for a home playoff series.
The Saints led 2-0 after one before Baldwin put the Falcons on the board at the 6:42 mark of the second with assists to Jordan McIntyre and Sailer. The Saints pushed their lead to 3-1 with a power play goal with under two minutes remaining in the period after the Falcons had taken back-to-back minor penalties.
The Falcons then had a two-man advantage and Pat Borgestad capitalized with his 12th goal of the season with just 26 seconds left in the period to cut the Saints' lead to 4-3. Dahl and Dustin Norman picked up assists.
The Saints got the only goal of the third period at the 11:49 mark to make the final 5-3.
Bucchino made 30 saves while St. Scholastica's Tyler Johnson stopped 29 shots.
Both teams were called for six minor penalties and both teams finished 1-for-6 on the power play.
"Being behind 2-0 after the first period really hurt. We beat ourselves with that start," said Freeman. "That sets up a wild weekend coming up and we just have to go out against Stout and play hard."
Stout, 19-2-2 overall, is currently ranked second in the latest USCHO Division III poll while the Falcons, 17-4-2, are ranked sixth. Other NCHA teams in the top 10 in the nation include St. Norbert (18-3-2) at No. 4 and Superior (17-5-1) at No. 7.