Nikita Salnikov skates with the puck

Nikita Salnikov controls the puck. The Ice Bears split their last home series of the regular season 1-1.

After nearly three weeks since the Missouri State Ice Bears regular season ended, they made the trip to Dallas, Texas, for the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament. The Ice Bears were the No. 14 seed in the tournament and faced the University of Buffalo in the opening round.

“Last year was the first trip to Nationals for some of our guys,” head coach Jeremy Law said. “This year they knew what to expect going into the tournament, and they were excited about it.”

The biggest question that followed Law’s team was who would be in the net for the playoffs. Goaltender Brady Griffin wound up getting the nod on Thursday afternoon against Buffalo.

“It was tough decision to decide between the three goalies,” Law said. “Griffin was the better of the three down the stretch, so we decided to continue to ride the hot hand.”

Defensively, the Ice Bears outplayed the Bulls, holding them to just 13 shots on goal during the game. Keeping their special teams at bay as well, the Bulls only goal came on one of their four power plays.

The Ice Bears offense played with confidence during the opening round, putting 26 shots on net and getting scoring from depth players like forwards Alex Rubin and Austin Davis. They also got scoring from the “B-Line.” Forward Jordan Bratton scored the fourth and final goal of the game with forwards Zane O’Bryan and Travis Barrett picking up assists on the play.

The line during conference play combined for 16 goals, 17 assists and 33 points. Down the stretch they were one of Law’s best offensive lines.

“It’s the only line that hasn’t been split up all season,” Law said. “They’ve been the most consistent in terms of play, and a lot of that comes with the chemistry that they collected throughout the season.”

After their 4-1 victory over Buffalo, the Ice Bears turned their attention to the No. 3 team in the nation, the Adrian College Bulldogs.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Law said. “The guys had to put their best game forward. We’ve played a lot of tough opponents this season, and that helped prepare us for this matchup.”

If it weren’t for Griffin, the final score of the game could have been a lot worse than a 1-0 loss. Griffin stopped 35 of 36 shots faced, with the only tally in the game coming just past the halfway mark in the third period.

The defense helped their goaltender out as well, They kept a power play unit that was operating at nearly 25 percent during conference play from contributing was huge in keeping Missouri State in the game. Offensively, though, the Ice Bears did not find a rhythm against the Bulldogs.

With the loss, the Ice Bears were eliminated from the tournament, and their season came to an end. They finished with an ACHA record of 25-14-4 in the program’s fourth season of Division I competition.

“Now we look forward to next season and coming back better and stronger,” Law said. “That all starts with training and recruiting.”

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