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UWRF hockey opens season

Senior forward Adam Cardwell is the Falcons leading returning scorer from a year ago. Cardwell tallied eight goals and 15 assists for 23 points. UWRF opens the season with a pair of home games this weekend against Finlandia the night of Friday, Oct. 26 and Marian Saturday, Oct. 27. <i>Journal file photo</i>

When the preseason poll came out Oct. 18, UW-River Falls' hockey coach Steve Freeman's club already accomplished one goal prior to even playing a game.

The Falcons came in at No. 14 in the national poll, and were selected to finish second in the NCHA behind two-time defending national champion St. Norbert College.

"We want to be recognized as a top team in the nation," Freeman said about his 2012-13 squad.

The new season kicks off this weekend with the Falcons hosting Finlandia Friday, Oct. 26, followed by a visit from Marian on Saturday, Oct. 27. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m. at Hunt Arena each night.

Freeman said team speed, strong defense, and experienced veterans highlight the Falcons' 2012-13 squad.

Leading the group of talented returning veterans is goalie Scott Lewan, who was named to the All-NCHA first team a year ago as a sophomore.

"We have a great group of veteran players that experienced success last year," Freeman said. "Our forwards are fast and we have a strong defensive core, including Scott Lewan."

Lewan is quickly rising up the ranks in the Falcon record books as he sits at seventh in career saves (1,415) and is tied for third with a career save percentage of .921. He led the NCHA with 715 saves last year and is just the third goalkeeper in Falcon history to record over 700 saves in consecutive seasons.

"Lewan was tremendous last year," Freeman said. "He played in every game and is the backbone of this hockey team."

George Malliaras was one of three freshmen who earned All-NCHA honorable mention last year. Malliaras was the team's top scoring defenseman with one goal and 16 points in his rookie season.

Team captains Sean Roadhouse and Adam Cardwell will contribute to the team's speed and explosiveness. Roadhouse is coming off a knee injury which sidelined him most of the 2011-12 season, while Cardwell was tied for third on the team in scoring with 23 points.

Tied with Cardwell in scoring, Geoff Shewmake led the Falcons with 14 goals, fifth most in the NCHA, and 23 points.

Along with Cardwell and Shewmake, the Falcons return seven of their top nine scorers from a year ago. Alec Hagaman had five short-handed goals as a part of his 19 points on the season, while Willie Hess and Blake Huppert were among the top freshmen in the NCHA.

"I believe we have a high-powered explosive team this year and can compete at a high level," Freeman said. "People will be impressed with our team speed."

UWRF will be tested early as the Falcons play six of their first eight games on the road. This includes a weekend series at the two-time defending national champions, St. Norbert Nov. 9-10, followed by a trip to UW-Stevens Point the following weekend.

"The NCHA is the toughest league in the nation from top to bottom," Freeman said. "It's a week-by-week process, we need to just keep climbing."

Freeman, who is entering his 17th season as Falcon head coach, has a career record of 292-145-33.

"I think our fans will be impressed and entertained," he said about the upcoming season. "This is an exciting crew to watch and I am optimistic about having a successful season."