Wisconsin-River Falls looks to bolster defense

Despite four of five leading scorers returning and three veteran defensemen back, the No. 8 Falcons remain a work in progress, coach Steve Freeman said.

The formula for success appears rooted in how a crop of underclassmen blend in with proven scorers like senior Josh Calleja (8 goals, 29 assists last season) and junior Justin Brossman (10 goals, 24 assists) as well as complement a somewhat depleted defensive corps.

So far, the results have been mixed, as the team has gone 2-2-1, which includes a 2-0 setback to No. 9 Gustavus Adolphus Nov. 6.

“We’ve had some flashes of brilliance and then some pretty flat spots,” said Freeman, whose team was tabbed for second in a preseason Northern Collegiate Hockey Association coaches poll. “We’ve got a lot of new faces in the lineup and that’s what you get sometimes.

“In some periods you are on, some periods you’re off.”

The team lost five defensemen, but return Caleb Wolgram (2 goals, 8 assists), Tadd Norris (3 goals, 4 assists) and Brady Horn (7 goals and 4 assists) to the blue line. Freshmen Jon Schreiner and Jeff Burke are also expected to play regularly.

As an added measure, junior John Bullis has moved to defense from forward.

“He’s really taken to it, so we’re really pumped about him,” the coach said.

Another new face appears in goal with freshmen Scott Lewan (Alberni Valley BCHL) splitting duties with junior Eric Babcook, who has a career mark of 5-2-1 with a 3.18 goals against and .890 save-percentage.

Freeman likes the grit of this season’s outfit, which he believes will factor in the NCHA playoffs and national rankings.

“We’ve got some guys who just love to play hockey, who are rink rat guys and who are out there all the time — before practice and after practice,” Freeman says. “They are hockey guys.

“They can play with bumps and bruises. They’re tough kids. They will block shots and do those little things that might not show up on the scoresheet but certainly help you have success as the season goes on.”


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