Twelve games is all that remains in the Missouri State Ice Bears regular season. Coming off a big rivalry weekend sweep of Mizzou, the Ice Bears looked to build on their recent home ice success.
This week the Ice Bears capped off a six game home stand against, Central Oklahoma and Oklahoma. The weekend started with a Thursday night matchup against the Central Oklahoma Bronchos. The Bronchos were 14-3-1, and were second in the Western Collegiate Hockey League. With a win, the Ice Bears would move closer to second place in the WCHL.
“These were big divisional games,” head coach Jeremy Law said. “We wanted to have a good showing at home. We’ve never beaten Oklahoma at home before, so this was a big weekend for us.”
Law went with goaltender Bailey Stephens in the crease on Thursday night. Stephens hasn’t been playing as well over his past three starts, stopping only 112 shots of 125 faced. A save percentage of .896 is not something that a head coach likes to see from a number one goalie.
“I have a lot of trust in Bailey — he was our backbone last season,” Law said. “The key for him and us is just getting consistency.”
Stephens would stop 43 of the 46 shots he faced against the Bronchos.
“With the system that we run in the defensive zone, it gives teams a lot of perimeter,” Law said. “With our system, we don’t allow many shots to be taken in the house.”
Thursday night’s biggest star was forward Travis Barrett. Barrett recorded a hat trick on just four shots in the game. Coming into the game, the 21 year old was second on the team in both goals and points.
“He’s really turned it on, and he’s got a hot stick,” Law said. “His line of Zane O’Bryan and Jordan Bratton are really playing well.”
The game winner came off Barrett’s stick, and it was his final goal at the 13-minute mark in the third period.
Coming off a strong win against the Bronchos, the Ice Bears turned their attention the University of Oklahoma. The Sooners sat just below the Ice Bears in the WCHL standings, coming into the weekend with a 7-4-0 record.
The Sooners allow 32 shots per game, which is above division average. Getting as many shots on net and funnelling pucks, were going to be a key to the game. Missouri State put 37 shots on goal during the Friday night game. The Ice Bears also did a good job of staying out of the penalty box during the contest.
Goaltending was going to make a difference in the two-game series against Oklahoma. Law started Stephens on back-to-back nights after he had a strong start against Central Oklahoma. Stephens responded well to the start on short rest, stopping 25 of 26 shots faced, with the only goal coming late in the first period.
Barrett made his presence known again on the stat sheet in the first game of the series. Forward Hunter Cooley notched the game-tying goal during an Ice Bears power play in the second period.
Getting a 2-1 victory over the Sooners to guarantee a winning weekend gave Missouri State even more confidence going into the Saturday night game against Oklahoma.
Game two of the series wound up having the same result as the first. Getting the start in net for the Ice Bears, though, was goaltender Brady Griffin. Even in a backup role, Griffin had a rough go over his past five starts, with a save percentage of .891 and a goals against average of 2.6.
Missouri State got a solid start from the 22 year old, as he stopped 38 of 39 shots faced. While goaltending was key to another Ice Bears’ victory, the penalty-kill on Saturday night was key. The Ice Bears managed to kill all eight of the Sooners’ power plays.
“Frustrations were high, for both teams Saturday night,” Law said. “The key for us was blocking shots. We’ve got guys that aren’t afraid to get hurt and block a 90 mph shot from the point.”
The Ice Bears netted both of their goals late in the first period, with the first coming from Cooley. The winner came from off an unassisted goal from forward Chad Lounder.
The Ice Bears will hit the road on Feb. 8-9 for games against the University of Alabama before returning to Mediacom Ice Park on Feb. 15 to face the University of Arkansas.