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Members of the UW-River Falls women’s hockey team are all smiles as they show off their trophies after defeating the University of St. Thomas, 5-3, in the third place game at the NCAA Division III Women’s Ice Hockey Championship Tournament last Saturday at Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh, N.Y. The win marked the first time the Falcons have brought home hardware in three trips to the national semifinals.

Falcons beat St. Thomas in 3rd place game at national tourney

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The UW-River Falls women’s hockey team made history last Saturday when it defeated the University of St. Thomas, 5-3, in the third place game at the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament at Stafford Ice Arena in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

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The third place national finish is the best ever for a Falcon team and marked the first time UWRF has won a game at Division III’s “Frozen Four.”

“This was an awesome experience -- it always is,” Falcon coach Joe Cranston said after UWRF’s third trip to the national semifinals. “To play the way we did and to score five goals against one of the best goalies in the country is great. Third place is the best we've ever done and we are very proud of that.”

The Falcons have qualified for the NCAA Tournament seven times in their history. They reached the national semifinals in 2003 and 2009 and went winless both years. All that changed Saturday as they built a 3-0 lead against Tommies’ All-American goalie Alise Riedel and went on to the 5-3 victory.

The Falcons were playing in the third place game after losing to Norwich, 4-2, in Friday night’s semifinals. Norwich advanced to Saturday night’s national championship game where they lost to host Plattsburgh, 9-2. Plattsburgh had advanced by beating St. Thomas, 1-0, in overtime Friday.

Chloe Kinsel got things started against the Tommies by guiding her own rebound past Riedel for her team-best 17th goal of the season at the 8:34 mark of the first period. She earned assists on UWRF’s next two goals -- one by Kait Mason at 10:43 of the first and another by Katie Batters on a power play at 13:49 of the second, to help stake the Falcons to a 3-0 lead.

Kinsel, who also scored a goal in Friday night’s 4-2 loss to Norwich, became the first Falcon ever to be named to the NCAA Division III National Championship All-Tournament Team for her performance over the weekend.

“I have big shoes to fill with the seniors leaving,” the sophomore from West St. Paul and Cretin-Derham Hall said after the game. “This experience has been amazing and finishing third makes it even better.”

St. Thomas got on the scoreboard with 43 seconds remaining in the second period but the Falcons answered with two quick goals in the third -- the first unassisted by Dani Buehrer at 2:52, and the second off the stick of Allie Olson, assisted by River Falls High School graduate Alice Cranston, at 4:16, to extend their lead to 5-1.

The Tommies made things interesting with a power play goal less than a minute later, but couldn’t solve Falcon goalie Ashley Kuechle until scoring with 24 seconds remaining with an extra skater on the ice to make the final 5-3.

Kuechle finished with 24 saves, including a pair of breakaways, to record her team-record 19th win of the season while Riedel, a 2010 Hudson High School graduate, recorded 28 saves for St. Thomas.

The Falcons ended the 2013-14 season with a record of 23-5-3, the sixth straight season they have posted 20 or more wins. They will lose just four seniors -- Kuechle, Batters, Mason and Brook Story -- to graduation after the group helped put together a record of 91-19-11 over the last four years.

“The thing about our senior class is that we have been having fun since our freshman season,” Batters said after the game. “Our class is good at getting everyone motivated and having fun. Tonight, everyone was motivated and it was fun.”

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