With the sports world ground to a halt, the shutdown created by the novel coronavirus has put the Missouri State club hockey team in an odd position.
The Ice Bears, as the team is often referred to, are independent from MSU’s athletic department. They support themselves financially through a combination of player fees, advertising and ticket sales.
The Ice Bears wrapped up their 19th season at the end of February — a season that did not go as the team hoped. They placed 30th out of 70 teams in Division I of the American Collegiate Hockey Association when they were predicted to finish in the top 10.
The Ice Bears are likely losing 11 seniors to graduation — a group that was the team’s core for three years.
The loss of those seniors means head coach Jeremy Law, entering his fourth year at the helm of the program, needs a lot from this year’s recruiting class. He said this incoming class will likely be the team’s core for the next three to five years.
Law had planned trips to several tournaments and showcases in places like British Columbia in Canada.
Instead, with COVID-19 closing down travel and canceling tournaments, Law is in his house in Greene County trying to do all the work he would normally do in person.
“I’ve been working on practice plans, recruiting over the phone — just trying to stay busy with hockey stuff,” Law said. “I’m used to traveling this time of year.”
The Ice Bears already have a few incoming freshmen committed to the team, and Law said there are a few more who will likely do so in the coming weeks. Even with those, there are still several roster spots he needs to fill.
The lack of in-person contact has forced Law to change how he assesses potential players.
“I like to watch them in person as much as I can,” Law said. “Stats tell a lot, but they don’t show work ethic or character. You can have a player that is putting up 60 points in a good league, but he’s lazy in the defensive zone.”
Law said he puts a premium on a player’s character. He said he would take a player who is a good teammate over a selfish player who puts up over 60 points a season.
“I’ve been watching as much game film as I can and calling their current and former coaches to see what (prospects) are like, but it’s nice to talk to a player in person and shake their hand,” he said.
As difficult as it is to recruit like that, Law knows all the other coaches in the ACHA are facing the same situation.
With the Ice Bears being financially self-dependent, the success of the team can tie into the organization’s continued existence. In recent years, their operating budget has been over $300,000.
Part of that money goes to Law’s salary — his position is full-time. Giving Law that position was a big jump for the team when they did it three years ago because his predecessors were not full-time employees.
Law said he has not thought about the financial impact while recruiting this year — the team’s fans have made it a nonissue.
“We have tremendous fans,” Law said. “We didn’t have the best of years (this past season) — in my three seasons here it was our worst in terms of wins and losses but our best in attendance. They’re committed to us, and we’re trying to do the same for them.”
While the next few months are uncertain, the Ice Bears plan to begin their season with tryouts at the end of August with games expected to begin in the later half of September.