Despite three trips to the national tournament in the past four years, the Missouri State Ice Bears feel as if they have not measured up.
The club hockey team at Missouri State, the Ice Bears, has spent the past few years circling close to the top of the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s top-10 but have failed to go deep in the national tournament. Last season ended on a last-minute goal from Ohio University to seal a 5-4, opening-round loss, and two seasons prior they lost to No. 3 Adrian 1-0.
“We’re at the point now where we expect to go to nationals,” head coach Jeremy Law, entering his fifth season, said. “Anything less than that would certainly be disappointing. We don’t want to be a team that is a doormat in the first round either.”
In order to do that, Law has to find a way to replace two of the team’s best players. Josh Bell, who led the team in points each of the last two years and was a dominant defensive center, graduated in spring 2021. Bell’s right-winger Alex Rubin graduated, too, after a dominant season. The two combined for 44 points in 18 games.
“Losing Bell and Rubin is going to require some of the younger guys who started last year to try and fill that role,” Law said. “We cannot replicate those two players, but we will see what fits.”
Some of those younger players include sophomores Jacob Wiethaupt and William Baginski, both of whom had good freshman runs. Wiethaupt is a heavy wing with a sharp shot, and Baginski has speed that is close to tops in the ACHA. MSU also returns winger Hunter Cooley, who played next to Bell and Rubin last season. Cooley matched Rubin’s point totals and plays a smart, defensive game.
All of this will be put to the test in one of the best conferences in the ACHA — the Western Collegiate Hockey League. The WCHL took a break last season as COVID-19 prevented every team except Missouri State from playing, but it will return in full force this fall. Missouri State will have to play teams like Oklahoma, Central Oklahoma and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas at some point in the year. There is also the possibility of facing Arizona and Arizona State in the league tournament in March. All of those teams are in the discussion as potential ACHA title contenders.
“The (WCHL) is an awesome league for us,” Law said. “We get a bunch of scheduling done early. And we get to play top-tier talent almost every weekend. That helps you prepare for a national tournament full of good teams.”
The Ice Bears open their season at home against nonconference opponent Illinois State on Sept. 17. MSU plays its home games a few blocks north of campus at Jordan Valley Ice Park at 635 E. Trafficway St. Students get a discount on general admission tickets.
Follow Stephen Terrill on Twitter, @stevethe2nd
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