LAKE PLACID - In a matchup between two teams making their first appearance in the NCAA Division III men's ice hockey final four, Utica drew first blood but it was all Wisconsin-Eau Claire from there as the Blugolds scored five unanswered goals to win 5-1 in Friday's second semifinal game at the Olympic Center.
Ross Andersen and Kurt Weston notched a pair of goals and added an assist each and Brandon Stephenson turned in a sparkling 31-save effort in goal to lead Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which will face Oswego tonight in the championship game.
Jack Callahan and Andrew McCabe also chipped in two assists each and Jordan Singer scored once for the winners, who improved to 23-5-2 overall.
Utica forward Trever Hertz crashes into a Wisconsin-Eau Claire defender as the puck goes airborne in front of Blugolds netminder Brandon Stephenson during the third period of Friday’s semifinal game in Lake Placid.
(Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)
Louis Educate notched the only goal for Utica, scoring at the midway point of the second period when he ripped a shot into the short side of the net to give the Pioneers a short-lived 1-0 edge. The Pioneers then had an opportunity to extend their advantage when they went on the power play 22 seconds after Educate scored, but the Blugolds shut the door.
Wisconsin-Eau Claire then came up with two huge goals 22 seconds apart, with Singer starting things off when he got a puck past a screened Utica goaltender Nick Therrien at the 13:15 mark to knot the contest at 1-1. Andersen followed with what proved to be the game-winning goal at the 13:37 mark.
After taking a 2-1 edge into the second intermission, the Blugolds struck quickly in the third period when Weston tallied at the 1:29 mark. Trailing 3-1, Utica got its chances to close the gap, but came up empty on two more power-play opportunities. The Blugolds pushed their lead to 4-1 on Weston's second of the game, which came at the 13:02 mark of the period, and Andersen rounded out the scoring on an empty-net goal with 2:39 left on the game clock.
"We got a couple of goals in 22 seconds there, and I thought that was the difference in the game," Blugolds head coach Matt Loen said. "When they got that first goal in the second period, I thought if we could get a goal, we could get going.
"I got a little nervous with that penalty right after they scored, because we could have easily been down 2-0," Loen continued. "That second goal we got from our leading scorer. It wasn't pretty but it opened up the doors from there."
Utica held a 32-26 edge in shots on goal, but Stephenson, a senior from Saline, Mich., turned in a brilliant performance. The Blugolds defenders also played well in front of their netminder and finished the game by blanking Utica on all six of the Pioneers' power-play opportunities.
"It was disappointing. I don't think we brought our A game," Utica head coach Gary Heenan said. "We certainly had our chances there, but their goalie played great. That's a big strong veteran club we played."
The game marked the first time Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Utica had met in men's ice hockey, and the Blugolds will clash with another team for the first time when they take on Oswego in today's championship game at the Olympic Center's 1980 Herb Brooks Arena, with the opening faceoff scheduled for 7 p.m.
Wisconsin-Eau Claire 5, Utica 1
1. U, Educate (Gaffney), 10:00; 2. W, Singer (Andersen), 13:15; 3. W, Andersen (Weston, Callahan), 13:37.
4. W, Weston (Callahan, McCabe), 1:29; 5. W, Weston (Callahan), 13:02; 6. W, Andersen, 17:21, eng.
Shots on goal: Utica 32, Wisconsin-Eau Claire 26.