The Falcons’ new logo is about the only new thing they will be sporting this season. Returning a starting goaltender and fourteen of their top fifteen scorers, the Falcons are in prime position to improve on last season’s NCHA runner-up finish.
Head coach Steve Freeman shares in the optimism.
“We’re pretty excited about our hockey team. I think we have a chance to have a great overall team”, he said.
If the Falcons wish to improve on last season’s performance, the return of sophomore A.J. Bucchino in net will only bolster their chances. After taking over the starting role as a true freshman last season Bucchino was sensational, finishing the season with the best save percentage (.938) in the league.
The Falcons are known for playing very solid team defense and this season should be no exception. Expect a defense that was second in the NCHA in goals allowed last season (2.30 per game) to once again be a tough nut to crack. Led by juniors Jim Henkemeyer (6-6-12) and Jason Usher (1-5-6), as well as sophomore Chris Nathe (5-3-8), Freeman again expects the defense to be a strong point.
“From the start we expect to have good team defense. It’s something we take great pride in here and something we expect to be a strength.”
On the offensive side the Falcons are just as potent. With 91 points scored last season, the Hansberry-Dahl-Borgestad line was one of the most prolific in the NCHA and returns fully intact. Sophomore forward Dustin Norman (6-11-17) returns fully healthy from a knee injury that cut short a promising freshman season. Their next six top scorers also return but despite the wealth of returning forwards, Freeman is not taking scoring for granted this season.
“Last season we had problems putting the puck in the net. Plain and simple.”
The Falcons offense was not terrible last season, scoring 3.44 goals per game which was good for fourth in the NCHA. Still, Freeman is pleased with a recruiting class that he feels will strengthen the offensive attack.
“I think last season we were lacking grit and speed. I really like what some of the new guys offer. They give us an element of speed we may not have had last season, so I think our offense will benefit as a result,” he said. “They also give us some depth I’m not sure we had in the past.”
Look for the Falcons to start with a bang this season as they are chomping at the bit to shake the sour taste of a playoff upset against Wis.-Stout from their mouths. On paper they clearly return the most talent in the NCHA, but that talent will need to translate into production in order for the Falcons to improve on last season’s finish. All the pieces are there for River Falls to go deep in the NCHA, and perhaps NCAA playoffs, and it shouldn’t be surprising to see them perhaps do both.
Most intriguing storyline: The Falcons have finished in the top three in the NCHA each of the past four seasons. Despite that, they have been unable to win a league regular season or playoff title. With the horses to do both this season, will River Falls finally be able to get the job done late in the year?