IB Notebook photo

Jacob Wiethaupt looks to the net for an open shot. Missouri State hockey fell 3-2 to Lindenwood on Feb. 26.

The phrase “top-10 team in the country” is something Missouri State Ice Bears coach Jeremy Law has often used to describe his teams in previous seasons.

Last weekend, they finally showed it.

The Ice Bears went 0-1-1 against the No. 1 Lindenwood Lions on Feb. 26 and 27. Do not let the zero in the wins column deceive you. The Ice Bears were in a spot to win both of those games. 

Friday, they took Lindenwood to overtime, which is something no team has done this season. The only reason the game did not go to a shootout was a weird bounce in overtime that gave Lindenwood a breakaway goal with 15 seconds left.

Saturday’s game, a 5-1 Lindenwood victory, was poorly officiated.

“I think the penalty discrepancy was — off,” Cook said after Saturday’s game. “We’ve now got some guys hurt that shouldn’t be because things that should have been called weren’t. The scoreboard didn’t really reflect the game. I think it was closer than that.”

Normally, blaming officials for anything but injuries could be seen as searching for excuses. But when a team plays Lindenwood, how the game is officiated matters. The Lions’ skill is something few teams have. Their powerplay is operating at 11% this season, but what it did was prevent Missouri State from having any scoring chances.

Despite that, Missouri State still played well enough to win.

The Ice Bears committed hard to the structure Law had in place for them, which was all about trying to neutralize Lindenwood’s skill.

“We played man-on-man in the defensive zone and kept a high forward in the offensive zone to prevent any rushes,” Law said. “Combine that with staying disciplined and committed to it was what we wanted.”

 

Lindenwood only got a few odd-man rushes the entire weekend, and most of their offense was limited to the perimeter. Law said Friday’s game was probably the best or second best game MSU has played since he took over as coach in 2017.

The team was excited too.

“When we play with our grit, our heart and stay disciplined, we can be right up there,” junior winger Hunter Cooley said. “We have a chance to win nationals.”

That certainly sounds like a top-10 team in the country.

Now comes the hard part for the Ice Bears: capitalizing. They are almost a lock for the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s national tournament as the only team in their conference playing.

The Ice Bears just needs to rid themselves of the inconsistency that has plagued them in recent seasons.

Even last season the Ice Bears would put up good performances against top competition like Central Oklahoma or Iowa State, but they were also one of the two teams to lose to Colorado, a team that finished with a 2-30 record in 2019-20.

The inconsistency has plagued them this year as well. They lost games against Iowa State and Maryville, which they easily could have won if they had played like they did against Lindenwood.

The Ice Bears have the pieces to compete. The goaltending trio of seniors Brady Griffin and Bailey Stephens and sophomore Matt Griffin has been solid all year. Their top forward line of Cooley and seniors Josh Bell and Alex Rubin have combined for 42 points — 22 goals, 20 assists — in 12 games. Team defense has been improving as the season has gone on.

“We have to remind the guys that this is the level we know we can play at,” Cook said. “I think (Law) would agree that there’s even a higher gear we can find. We know if we put that kind of effort in every single night, there are few teams that can stay with us.”

The Ice Bears have six more games before the national tournament: two against Maryville on March 5 and 6, two against Midland on March 12 and 13 and two against Division II team East Texas Baptist on March 26 and 27.

If they can claim that top-10 identity during that stretch, a National Championship may be in reach.

 

Follow Stephen Terrill on Twitter, @stevethe2nd

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