Coming into the week, the Missouri State Ice Bears had three big home games facing the No. 1 team in the nation, the Lindenwood Lions, on Thursday, while taking on their in-state rivals, the Missouri Tigers over the weekend.
The Lindenwood Lions are undefeated on the 2018-19 season, with a record on 8-0-0. The Lions play both sides of the puck well, with a season average of 5.52 goals per game and only allowing 1.52 goals per game. Special teams is what separates them from other teams in the division, with a power-play unit operating at 41.3 percent, and the penalty-kill at 90.2 — both are tops in the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Ice Bears are no slouch on special teams, though. With a power-play unit scoring 21.6 percent of the time, and a penalty-kill of 85.6 percent, both are top three in the West Coast Hockey League.
One thing the Ice Bears had in their favor was home ice. When playing at Mediacom Ice Park, Missouri State is 13-5-0-1.
In Thursday night’s contest, Ice Bears head coach Jeremy Law started Bailey Stephens between the pipes. Stephens is having a solid 18-19 campaign, with a goals against average of 2.19 and save percentage of .919 in 18 games played. Lindenwood started netminder Cooper Seedott. Seedott is undefeated, with a goals against average of 1.30 and a save percentage of .949 this season.
The Lions got the scoring started in contest on Thursday night, getting one past Stephens off a defender’s skate, nearly 14 minutes into the first period. Even though the Bears outshot the Lions 11-9 in the first period, the Lions were up 1-0.
Lindenwood tallied another in the second, but the Ice Bears finally cracked the scoreboard with their first goal coming from forward Nikita Salnikov. The second period ended with the Lions up 2-1 on the Ice Bears.
Early in the third period, both teams found the back of the net, with the Ice Bears goal coming from forward Hunter Saunders. It was Missouri State’s final goal on the evening, and Lindenwood scored a power-play goal late in the period — the final nail in the coffin.
In the 4-2 loss, special teams and defense proved to be the keys to the game. Missouri State went 0-3 on the man-advantage, while Lindenwood went 1-4. Lindenwood peppered Stephens with 44 shots on goal, and the Ice Bears only mustered 21 shots.
The Ice Bears rebounded on Friday and Saturday night against Mizzou, though. The Missouri State offense proved to just be too much for the Tigers on Friday night, with a final score of 15-2. The Ice Bears scored 15 goals on nearly 70 shots on goal. Only one of Missouri State’s goals came with the man-advantage.
Ice Bears’ netminder Brendan Shuck got the win, stopping 18 of 20 shots faced. The game-winning goal came from forward Sasha Perron early in the second period. Missouri State forward Travis Barrett registered a hat trick in the second period of Friday night’s contest.
Ice Bear forwards Jordan Bratton and Zane O’Bryan led the club with five points each. Bratton tallied two goals and three assists, while O’Bryan had one goal and dished out four assists.
Saturday night’s contest was a little closer on the scoreboard, but the Ice Bears pulled out a 6-2 victory. Missouri State goalie Brady Griffin got the start in between the pipes on Saturday.
Griffin is 6-2-1 this season with a 2.51 goals against average and a save percentage of .902. The netminder stopped 14 of 16 shots, getting lots of help from his teammates.
The Ice Bears only had one opportunity on the power-play, but they were successful. Defenseman Chris Brown scored the unassisted power-play goal early in the third period.
The penalty-kill for the Ice Bears was busy. Not being able to stay out of the box, Missouri State gave Mizzou five chances with man-advantage. The Tigers couldn’t find the back of the net when on the power play, but the Ice Bears scored twice while down a man.
The game-winning goal came midway through first period from Saunders. Brown and Barrett lead the team in points with two apiece. Both of Barrett’s points came from his goals in the first and second period.
Going into what was a tough part of the schedule — and coming away with two wins — was key for the Ice Bears as they look to make another run at the playoffs.
The Ice Bears’ next game is at home, at Mediacom Ice Park, on Thursday, Jan. 31, against Central Oklahoma.