The Missouri State Ice Bears’ opening weekend was filled with lots of goals and lots of penalties.
The team split two games with Illinois State on the road, losing the first game 6-2 and winning the second game 6-4.
The first game was off to a promising start when sophomore forward Nikita Salnikov scored early in the first period to put the Bears up 1-0 early. Salnikov’s wrist shot from the left faceoff circle was so accurate it knocked the ISU goalie’s water bottle out of its holder on the back of the net.
Illinois State quickly evened the score — defenseman Jack Kremer got a shot past senior goaltender Brady Griffin. That would be the first of four goals scored by Illinois State in the first period.
“We just weren’t prepared,” Ice Bears head coach Jeremy Law said. “We were running around in the D-zone, and we left Griffin out to dry.”
The scoring slowed in the next two periods — only three more goals would be scored. Ice Bears junior forward Alex Rubin scored the other MSU goal in the third period.
Senior goaltender Bailey Stephens came in to relieve Griffin at the start of the second period, but the Bears were unable to threaten the ISU lead.
Law said the game was closer than the score suggested. The Bears had over 40 shots on goal but were unable to score.
Saturday night’s game was a penalty-filled affair — the Ice Bears had 47 penalty minutes compared to ISU’s 15.
“I never really chirp the refs, but I thought the officiating was atrocious,” Law said.
The Ice Bears’ penalty kill held ISU scoreless on eight of 11 power plays. Two of the three power play goals the Redbirds scored were during 5-on-3 opportunities.
“For us to get the win — being in the penalty box that much — it was huge,” Law said. “I’m really proud of the guys.”
Law opted to start Griffin again on Saturday. He said it was the team’s way of apologizing for the night before, and Griffin made 43 saves on 47 shots.
The Ice Bears were unable to hold onto a lead for long throughout the game — each time they scored the Redbirds would answer with a goal of their own.
The most impactful goal of the night for MSU came on the penalty kill — sophomore forward Matt Matyi blocked a shot from the point man on ISU’s power play and raced down the ice to beat the ISU goalie one-on-one shorthanded.
“That was a huge energy goal for us,” Law said. “We were frustrated with the reffing — to score short handed and kind of shove it down (ISU’s) throat — that felt good.”
The Ice Bears also got goals from Salnikov, Rubin and senior forward Zach O’Bryan. Salnikov’s goal came late in the third period to give the Ice Bears a two-goal lead.
The Ice Bears were unable to practice for a majority of the preseason — the backup ice plant at Jordan Valley Ice Park, which was being used while the main plant was undergoing maintenance, had a pump failure leading to both rinks melting right as practices started. Two backup pumps were brought in to replace the broken pump, and that was used to complete the ice sheet MSU will play on. The Ice Bears had their first practice on the new sheet on Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 10 p.m.
The Ice Bears will travel to Ames, Iowa, this weekend to play two games against Iowa State. The Cyclones are ranked No. 3 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s preseason poll.
The next weekend the Ice Bears have their home opener against Western Collegiate Hockey League foe Colorado on Friday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. They will play Colorado again the next night.