The Missouri State Ice Bears need to start playing their best hockey. During a big weekend, up in North Dakota, the Ice Bears needed to do just that.
With two games against the University of Jamestown and one against Minot State University, this road trip was the final one the Ice Bears made before the national tournament.
Dropping all three games over the weekend was not what head coach Jeremy Law had in mind.
“There weren’t a lot of positives to take from the trip,” Law said. “Our guys battled really hard. We were playing with a short bench. We had guys staying home with injuries and classes taking priority.”
There were some positives on the scorecards, though. Outshooting their opponents every night doesn’t always mean a lot, but when you are getting pucks on net it can mean good things. The Ice Bears outshot Jamestown and Minot State by a combined total of 123-103.
“We had a lot of perimeter shots,” Law said. “There weren’t too many second chance opportunities or high-percentage shots taken.”
The Ice Bears’ power play found their groove during the road trip, connecting on four of 12 power-play chances during the weekend. Missouri State forward Josh Bell added three goals on the man-advantage during the trip. Overall the Ice Bears played well, despite dropping all three games.
“We were the best team on the ice in the first period of every game,” Law said. “We didn’t trail at all in the first period of either of the games … the second period of the first game against Jamestown was a big momentum swing for the weekend.”
The Ice Bears allowed four unanswered goals in the second period of game one. Law would pull his goaltender Bailey Stephens midway through the period and replace him with Brady Griffin. Stephens allowed four goals on 16 shots faced on Thursday night, then Griffin came in and faced 15 shots, allowing just one goal.
When asked about his goaltenders going into the final two games of the regular season and into the national tournament, Law said he is going to ride the hot hand.
“If our goalie wins the night before, he is going to start the next night,” Law said, adding that Brendan Shuck is going to start the first game against Oklahoma on Friday night.
Law said he thought Stephens rebounded well in the second game of the Jamestown series. He stopped 31-of-34 shots faced on Friday night. Griffin got the start against Minot State on Saturday and stopped 33 of 37. With the national tournament just a few weeks away, Law will need both Stephens and Griffin to be at the top of their games if the Ice Bears want to make a deep run.
Offensively, the club will need forward Nikita Salnikov to continue tallying points on the top line. His linemate Travis Barrett, who is second on the team in goals behind Salnikov, will rejoin him for the Oklahoma series. Salnikov and Barrett have combined for 49 goals this season.
Also returning to the lineup for the season’s final series will be forward Hunter Cooley. He is fourth on the team in goals scored with 15. Both he and Bell will help the Ice Bears power play build on the success in North Dakota.
This weekend series against the University of Oklahoma will be a final tune-up for the national tournament.
“We are going to need to play really well,” Law said. “We will get a lot of guys back from injury and that should help shake things out.”
The Ice Bears’ final games against Oklahoma will be on home ice at Mediacom Ice Park on March 1-2. Missouri State beat the Sooners just a little over two weeks ago for the first time in club history on home ice.