In the first period of a game against Colorado on Oct. 4, the Missouri State Ice Bears’ leading scorer from the previous season, junior forward Nikita Salnikov, went down with a lower body injury and has not returned.
It has taken some time, but the team appears to have finally got its offense rolling again.
On Friday, Nov. 1, the Ice Bears exploded offensively, beating Alabama 9-3.
At the center of the scoring was senior forward Travis Barrett, who scored three goals en route to a hat trick.
Barrett is a member of the Ice Bears’ “B-Line” consisting of Barrett, and other senior forwards Zane O’Bryan and Jordan Bratton. The line had played together for almost two years, but the three were moved to different lines at the beginning of October, then reunited on the road against Central Oklahoma on Oct. 18.
“Every once in awhile they get a little stale, so you split them up,” head coach Jeremy Law said of the forward line after the game against Alabama on Nov. 1. “Then you put them back together, and — as was apparent tonight — they have a lot of chemistry.”
Barrett said being split up — then reunited — has been beneficial to him and his linemates.
“The past three games we’ve played better than we have in a long time,” Barrett said. “I think we had a little bit of a wake-up call when (Law) split us up because he hadn’t split us up in over two years.”
The Ice Bears’ win over Alabama on Nov. 1 was a game they took control of quickly, scoring two goals in the first period and never giving up the lead.
The player who has been most affected by Salnikov’s absence is senior forward Josh Bell, who centered the line Salnikov was on. Junior forward Alex Rubin has taken Salnikov’s spot on the line, which also includes sophomore forward Hunter Cooley.
“It’s been different, obviously, because with Nikita — he’s got speed unlike anyone else,” Bell said. “You can’t just look up and throw the puck ahead and expect someone to skate down the ice and get it anymore. It’s been more of all three guys working together to make one chance.”
Bell and his linemates continued scoring on Saturday, Nov. 2, in a 4-2 win to complete the sweep of Alabama. Bell, Cooley and Rubin all scored a goal in the contest.
The Ice Bears again took a 2-0 lead early. The scoring slowed after that, and the Ice Bears struggled in their own defensive zone. A goal by Bell extended the lead to 3-0, but Alabama found the back of the net twice in the third period to make it 3-2 going into the final two minutes.
An Ice Bears penalty and Alabama pulling their goalie for an extra attack put the team in a six-on-four situation, but Matt Matyi stole the puck away from an Alabama defenseman and gave it to Rubin, who scored an empty-net goal with 20 seconds left, sealing the victory.
Law said senior goaltender Brendan Shuck, who made 35 saves, was the team’s best player Saturday night and the only reason Alabama did not score five or six goals at times.
Salnikov is expected to return some time in the next two to four weeks. The Ice Bears make a road trip out west next weekend, playing Colorado on Nov. 7, and No. 23 Colorado State on Nov. 8 and 9.