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On the frozen four

Falcon sophomore Kayleigh Bell celebrates in front of her team's bench after scoring what turned out to the game-winning goal midway through the third period in the Falcons 2-1 NCAA quarterfinal win over Gustavus Adolphus Friday in St. Peter, Minn.Bridget Fowler photo

UW-River Falls goalie Cassi Campbell stopped 35 shots and Kayleigh Bell scored a power play goal midway through the third period to lift the Falcon women's hockey team to a 2-1 victory over top-ranked Gustavus Adolphus in a NCAA quarterfinal game Friday in St. Peter, Minn.

UW-RF will play Elmira College (N.Y.) in a national semifinal this Friday, March 20, at 2:30 p.m. local time on the campus of Middlebury College (Vt.). Middlebury will host Amherst College (Mass.) in the other semifinal. Middlebury is the No. 1 seed and received a first round bye while Amherst beat Plattsburgh State (N.Y.) 4-1 to advance t the Frozen Four.

Bell's game winner came on a power play with 8 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the final period when she got the puck at the top of the faceoff circle and fired a slap shot by Gustavus goalie Danielle Justice.

"Just a great shot," Falcon head coach Joe Cranston said. "She got the puck and blew it past her."

Up until then it was Campbell who stole the show by stopping all 18 shots she faced in the first period against one of the nations' most potent offenses.

"We knew we were going to spend some time in the defensive zone," Campbell said. "We had to be patient. Most of the shots in the first were from the perimeter, so you can't tell by the shots, but we outworked them in the first."

Cranston said Campbell contributed a lot more in the win than simply stopping pucks.

"She played great, and it wasn't just not letting goals in," he said. "She has a presence in net. It's got to be frustrating for other teams knowing that they will have to play her. She is tough to score on, doesn't give up rebounds and makes save after save, which can be tough to deal with if you are on the other side."

Sophomore forward Jessica Thompson said Campbell's performance is what propelled the Falcons to the Frozen Four.

"Goaltending was amazing," she said. "Cassi Campbell was the backbone of the team. Without her I don't know if we would have won the game."

Cranston said the game plan was to keep Gustavus to the outside.

"I knew they didn't have players that could snipe goals," Cranston said. "We wanted them to take shots because they were going to be to the outside. No clean shots and we kept them on the perimeter. We played less aggressive on the penalty kill and didn't allow any quality scoring chances."

Schmitz opened the scoring in the second period on a breakaway after the Gusties had control in UW-RF's zone.

When Thompson hit Schmitz with a pass, she was all alone and put a move on Justice to score 20 seconds into the period.

"Got a lucky bounce to get her free and she scored on a great move on the breakaway," Cranston said. "She did it just like we do in practice."

Schmitz said she was surprised the Falcons took the lead against the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.

"I was kind of shocked," she said. "I looked back at the bench and saw everyone celebrating. I think we had a lot of momentum on our side after that."

Schmitz's goal was the first Gustavus has given up in 463 minutes of play. The last goal it allowed was on Feb. 7 against the College of St. Catherine.

The Gusties had a seven game shutout streak coming into the NCAA tournament, but most of the teams were near the bottom of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC).

Lynn Hillen scored and tied it up for Gustavus midway through the second on what ended up being a controversial goal. Hillen's shot beat Campbell, but the puck appeared to hit the post and bounce out.

The goal light went on, but the referees allowed play to continue and UW-RF's Jamie Briski got the puck and was on a breakaway of her own. She put a great move on Justice to score and appeared to have gave the Falcons a 2-0 lead. But after the play, the referees had a conference and decided Hillen's shot went in, negating Briski's goal and making the score 1-1.

"The puck never went in." Cranston said. "It hit the post and came right out. I told everyone that if we lose this game we are going to have that thought in our minds forever, so we have to go out and win the game now."

Schmitz said the call upset her, but made the Falcons come together.

"I was pissed," she said. "But we decided that we need to win the game and not worry about it."

When Bell scored in the third to give the Falcons the lead, they played the same way they did all game. They continued to play tough in their own zone and did not let Gustavus get to the middle of the ice to get good shots and screens on Campbell.

UW-RF also got the puck out of the zone as soon as possible to get line changes and fresh legs on the ice in what ended up being a total team win.

"Absolutely amazing feeling," Campbell said. "This is the closest knit team I have ever been on. We won this game for each other. It wasn't about who scored the goals or who made the plays. It was about winning the game as a team. The younger players did it for the older players. The older players did it for the younger plays. We did it as a team."

The win tied a school record for most wins in a season for the Falcons as they improved to 20-5-3.

They will have a chance to reach the NCAA championship game for the first time in school history if they can beat Elmira, the team that defeated the Falcons in the national semifinals in 2003. Elmira ended up winning the national title that season.

"We are going to be the underdogs going in," Cranston said. "We will have to play the same we as we did against Gustavus to win and we are fine with that."