This weekend the Missouri State Ice Bears will play the Central Oklahoma Broncos in one of the early matchups that will help determine the Western Collegiate Hockey League’s champion.
Both MSU and UCO come into the matchup undefeated, but the Broncos have played several ranked opponents.
There are several teams in the league that could find their way to the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s national tournament in March. Here’s a look at the nine teams in the league not named Missouri State.
The Eastern Division: Missouri State, Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Colorado State and Colorado
No. 7 Central Oklahoma (9-0, 6-0 in WCHL)
The Broncos of UCO are normally in the mix for the WCHL title, but have not won the league since 2017-18. The Broncos are atop of the standings with six wins, including two wins last weekend against the University of Nevada Las Vegas. UNLV was picked to finish first in the WCHL coaches poll. Forward Vitalii Mikhailov leads the Broncos with 16 goals and five assists in nine games.
The Broncos are also in control of their own destiny in the league race after beating UNLV and Arizona State. Missouri State head coach Jeremy Law said he thinks Missouri State will have to beat UCO to have a chance to win the league.
“UCO’s doing well right now,” Law said. “We’ll have to be ready. I think it’s going to come between us and UCO for the WCHL East. Those will be the biggest games of the year for us.”
Oklahoma (3-3-1, 0-1-1 in WCHL)
The Sooners had a slow start to their season, splitting a series with Division III team Arkansas. They then lost a game against Central Oklahoma that did not count for WCHL play, beat Waldorf University and dropped two games to Colorado State.
Forward Marshall Rushing is leading the team with six goals and five assists in seven games.
Missouri State will play the Sooners four times. The Ice Bears will go to Norman for two games on Nov. 5 and 6, and the Sooners return the favor on Jan. 21 and 22.
Colorado State (2-4, 2-4-0 in WCHL)
The Rams opened their season on a four-game losing streak, dropping two games to Missouri State then two games to Arizona. They rebounded with a two-game sweep of Oklahoma, which was ranked No. 25 at the time they played.
The organization went through a coaching change right before the school year started, with Camden Lambert taking over. Lambert spent time as an assistant coach with the University of Jamestown, another Division I ACHA team.
Missouri State has two games left against CSU. They will be in Springfield on Nov. 12 and 13.
Colorado (2-5, 0-1-1 in WCHL)
The Buffaloes have already matched their win total from the 2019-20 season, where they won two games. Their first win this season was against Division II team Metropolitan State University Denver, the other against Utah. They also managed to play a close game with Iowa State, losing 5-2. The Cyclones are in the top-5 in Division I at the time of publishing.
Missouri State has four games to play against Colorado. Two will be in Springfield on Jan. 14 and 15, and two in Boulder on Feb. 18 and 19.
Western Division: UNLV, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Grand Canyon
No. 10 University of Nevada Las Vegas (4-2, 2-2 in WCHL)
The Rebels are one of the new teams in the WCHL, and were picked to finish first in the Coaches poll. Outside of two losses to Central Oklahoma last weekend, the Rebels have beat Illinois twice and Utah twice.
Forward Max Johnson is leading the scoring with four goals and five assists.
Missouri State will play at UNLV Oct. 29 and 30.
No. 19 Arizona (3-4, 3-4 in WCHL)
Arizona comes into the year as the defending league champion, winning the 2019-20 title. Goaltender Anthony Ciurro, one of the league’s best netminders in the 2019-20 season, returns for the Wildcats.
Arizona only lost three league games during their 19-20 championship run, but have already lost four this year. The Wildcats lost two games against Utah, one against Arizona State and one against Grand Canyon.
The Ice Bears will not play Arizona in the regular season.
Utah (3-2-1, 2-1-1 in WCHL)
The Utes were another one of the additions to the league. They beat Arizona twice to start the season, lost two games against UNLV and split a series with Colorado.
Forward Alexander King is leading the Utes with three goals and two assists in six games.
Missouri State will not play Utah in the regular season.
No. 24 Arizona State (1-3, 1-3 in WCHL)
The Sun Devils had a tough matchup for their first two games, playing a UCO team that was 6-0 coming into Tempe. ASU played close in the second game with the Broncos after losing the first game 6-2.
The Sun Devils followed those games by splitting a series with Arizona. Forward Brendan Studioso has returned to the team after a successful 2019-20 season. He currently has two points.
Missouri State will not play Arizona State in the regular season.
Grand Canyon (2-4, 1-2 in WCHL)
The Antelopes were on the losing side of a 23-goal weekend by the Ice Bears in early October. Missouri State won the first game 15-2, and the next game 8-3. Missouri State sat its entire first line for the second contest.
Grand Canyon rebounded by picking up a win in a mid-week contest with Arizona on Oct. 16.
Grand Canyon was the lone team from the western division scheduled to come to Springfield. The Ice Bears will not see them again in the regular season.
What the winner gets
Whoever wins the WCHL will get an automatic bid to the ACHA national tournament in March. It will go to the team that won the regular season championship as there is no league tournament. For updated league standings, follow the WCHL Twitter account, @WesternCHL.
Follow Stephen Terrill on Twitter, @stevethe2nd
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