It is a rarity for teams in the American Collegiate Hockey Association to have two goaltenders who could be considered starters.
The Ice Bears have three.
The goaltending trio of seniors Brady Griffin and Brendan Shuck and junior Bailey Stephens are something the No. 27 Ice Bears (7-6-1-1) can rely on during a rocky start to the season.
“All three of our goalies have been great — we’ve been able to rotate them through,” head coach Jeremy Law said. “A lot of teams (in the ACHA) will carry three goalies but ride one guy. We may do that at the end of the season, but right now they all deserve to play.”
The Ice Bears got good games out of both Shuck and Stephens this past weekend when they played No. 13 Arizona State on Friday and Saturday.
On Friday night, the Ice Bears played what Law said was the team’s best hockey all season — until the last five minutes.
After a dominant 55 minutes, the Ice Bears led the Sun Devils 4-1. Then, ASU defenseman Zach Kowalchuk scored a short-handed goal with 4:32 left in the game.
It did not stop there. ASU scored three more goals in just under 4 minutes and won the game 5-4.
“They scored that goal with four minutes left — we kind of just started pressing a bit, trying to make too many plays,” Ice Bears captain Chris Brown said. “We started collapsing in and leaving guys open, and they had some tap-ins.”
Shuck was the goalie Friday night, and he made 27 saves. Brown said the loss was not on Shuck, but the play in front of him.
The Ice Bears had a similar start to the game Saturday night, jumping out to a 3-0 lead by the middle of the second period. Sophomore forward Brandon Baldwin scored his first goal of the year late in the second period for the 4-0 lead.
The Ice Bears continued to dominate the game — until the last 10 minutes.
A miscommunication behind the MSU net gave the Sun Devils an easy goal, and they would get another a few minutes later on the powerplay.
The Ice Bears’ coaching staff quickly called a timeout.
“We told them to calm down — stick to their game,” assistant coach Brendan McClew said after the Saturday game.
The timeout was enough for the team to regroup, and they won the game 4-2.
Stephens was in net Saturday, stopping 32 of 34 shots.
“The guys in front made it easy for me tonight,” Stephens said after the game. “There was a little tension after (ASU) scored their second goal, but we bounced back good and held them at two.”
Stephens, who has a .928 save percentage this year, said the team having three goalies has kept all three of them healthy.
“You get some time to rest, which is huge,” Stephens said. “You’ve just got to cheer your partners on and wait for your turn.”
The Ice Bears will host No. 14 Central Oklahoma next weekend on Nov. 22 and 23. UCO beat No. 2 Lindenwood University twice this past weekend, and McClew says the two games the Ice Bears will play against UCO is the time the team needs to play a complete game.
“Next weekend is huge for us,” McClew said. “Especially trying to make it into the top 20 in the rankings right before Christmas break. UCO is really skilled, so the key is making simple plays. We’ve got a couple guys that when they get confident they try to do too much with the puck, so limiting that will be huge.”