MEQUON, Wis. - When you take a look at the current Northern Collegiate Hockey Association standings, it's easy to see why the final nine games of the regular season will be so crucial for the Concordia University Wisconsin women's hockey team.
The Falcons (7-8-1, 5-6-0 NCHA) are currently in a four-way tie for sixth place with 10 points, and the conference only takes eight teams for the O'Brien Cup Playoffs, beginning on February 24th.
Six of CUW's remaining nine games will be against teams that are currently above them in the NCHA standings, but head coach Jim Ingman says it doesn't matter who the Falcons are playing, they'll have to manage to win at least five games between now and the end of the regular season.
"To get in the playoffs, I feel that we have to be at least 5-4 the rest of the year," Ingman said. "This year, 5-4 is going to be what gets you in; and if you can do better than that, that will just determine your seeding."
For the Falcons to reach that goal, players and coaches alike acknowledge that a few areas of their game have to improve.
In a two-game series at home against UW-Superior last weekend, CUW dropped both games while only scoring a combined three goals, all of which were scored by defensemen.
The Falcon forwards know they'll have to pick up their game in order for the team to have success down the stretch.
"As forwards, we just need to crash the net hard," freshman winger Samantha Reiter said. "A lot of times, we've just been peeling off to the sides rather than staying at the net for that extra second."
"We're really going to be working with our new lines during this week in practice," freshman center Erin Grant added. "It's going to be important for us to develop that chemistry so we can finish and score some goals this weekend."
The Falcons will host another team involved in that four-team tie for sixth place this weekend, as the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire visits for a two-game series.
The Blugolds (5-11-3, 4-8-2 NCHA) only have six more games to play in their regular season, and will be just as hungry for a couple of victories as the Falcons.
"(This weekend) is a big series, and we have to play solid hockey," Ingman said. "Eau Claire is a mentally strong, well-conditioned team, and I'm expecting very physical, tough games."
CUW knows that this weekend will go a long way in determining whether or not they'll have a spot in the conference tournament in a month's time.
"It's very important in the conference standings for us to sweep Eau Claire," Grant said. "It will help us to secure a spot in the playoffs, rather than have to fight for that eighth spot."
"This is the time of year where we can decide if we want to kick it in gear or not," Reiter replied. "I think we're ready to really get going and step up."
Friday night's game will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the Ozaukee Ice Center, while Saturday's action will get going at 2:00 p.m.