Few things in sports are more exciting than playoff hockey, whether its professional or at the college level, the atmosphere jumps to another level.
Coming into the weekend, the Missouri State Ice Bears were ranked No. 12 in the nation and were facing the University of Arkansas.
With just seven games remaining in the season, every minute matters and when playing the rival Razorbacks, it means a little more.
“We had a crowd of 600-700 people in attendance on Friday night,” head coach Jeremy Law said. “On Saturday night, we had a sell out and saw close to 1,200 people in the stands. Our guys really feed off our fans.”
Missouri State took the first game of the weekend by a score of 4-3. Law played Brendan Shuck between the pipes for his eighth start of the season.
“All three goalies have been outstanding this season,” Law said. “They’ve earned the right to play. It’s tough making that choice every night.”
The Ice Bears defense played well in front of the backup goalie, only allowing 19 shots on net. Shuck would turn 16 of them away. The win on Friday night gave Shuck his eighth win of the season. Even with two goals coming late in the third period — one coming with an extra attacker for Arkansas — Shuck played well enough to give the Ice Bears a chance.
The offense put the pressure on the Arkansas net minder, getting 36 shots on goal.
“We had some good chances against them on Friday night, had a strong second period that really turned the game in our favor,” Law said.
Recording an assist, forward Nikita Salnikov added to his team-leading 49 points. His linemate Travis Barrett scored the game-winning goal late in the second period, the goal was his 22nd on the year and gives him 33 points on the season.
Saturday night would not yield the same outcome for the Ice Bears, losing 4-3 in overtime.
“We hit a couple posts in OT, Josh Bell had one go off the crossbar,” Law said. “You’ve got to give credit to their goalie.”
Law started Brady Griffin the start in goal on during the contest on Saturday. Griffin turned away 26 of 30 shots faced and was key in keeping the Razorback special teams from being the deciding factor. The Razorbacks converted on two of their nine power-play opportunities.
Bell,a forward, found the back of the net twice, giving him 16 goals this season. Both of his goals came on the man-advantage, the Ice Bears power-play unit converted on three of their 12 power plays.
“We’re a little snakebitten right now, converting on three of 22 power play opportunities is not what you want to see,” Law said.
Even with the loss to Arkansas on Saturday, the Ice Bears should maintain their spot in the rankings at 12. The club has five games remaining on the regular season, and only two of the five are at home.
Missouri State is going to have to find ways to win on the road. The Ice Bears are 8-7 away from Mediacom Ice Park.
“Big series this coming weekend in North Dakota. We need to start peaking and playing our best hockey at this time in the year,” Law said. “We played down to Arkansas last night, and that’s not something you want to see right now.”
Missouri State is going to lean heavy on goalie Bailey Stephens. His save percentage of .912 in conference play this year is alarming.
“It’s been a dogfight for all three guys this year,” Law said. “Brady played really well, makes my job difficult.”
Griffin has a save percentage of .933 and a goals against average of 1.86 in conference play.
The Ice Bears won’t see home ice again until they face Oklahoma on March 1.
Their next game is Thursday, Feb. 21, against the University of Jamestown.