The Missouri State Ice Bears took control of the Western Collegiate Hockey League over the weekend with a two-game sweep of No. 7 Central Oklahoma.
While they are tied with UCO in points, both with 18, Missouri State holds the tie-breaker as the winner of both head-to-head matchups.
It all happened with a backdrop of pink ice, as the Ice Bears were hosting their “Pink the Rink” weekend for breast cancer research. The players’ pink jerseys were auctioned off with the proceeds going to charity.
The win gives the Ice Bears an early path forward to win the league, although they still have 14 more WCHL games on the schedule.
Missouri State struck early on Friday with a goal from freshman forward Kayson Gallant about three minutes into the game. Central Oklahoma’s Zach Guerra scored the equalizer a few minutes later, leaving it tied 1-1 at the end of the first period.
Senior defenseman Jake Kopinski scored in the second period. Then, with UCO’s goalie pulled near the end of the game, Gallant and sophomore winger Jacob Wiethaupt scored on an empty net to complete a 4-1 victory.
“It helped scoring first, especially as early as it happened,” head coach Jeremy Law said. “The (Gallant) goal came off a play we worked all week at practice. That was nice and it helped with our confidence.”
Missouri State struck early again, with sophomore winger Jacob Wiethaupt scoring on a 5-on-3 powerplay in the first period. Wiethaupt’s goal was followed by senior winger Hunter Cooley deflecting a puck off his body on the 5-on-4 power play that followed.
Central Oklahoma responded with two goals of its own before the end of the period to tie it 2-2.
Missouri State then erupted for four goals in the second period.
Sophomore forward Evan Ross scored on a penalty shot early in the period to make it 3-2.
We have a good goal. Ice Bears retake the lead on Evan Ross’s penalty shot.3-2 MSU13:50 P2 pic.twitter.com/IsfUfOcaTg— Stephen Terrill 📰 (@Stevethe2nd) October 23, 2021
Then, freshman forward Cody Flann scored off a pass from Gallant to increase MSU’s lead to 4-2.
After the Flann goal, Wiethaupt passed the puck in front of freshman forward Matt McGowan, who poked the puck into the net. Eighteen seconds later, freshman defenseman Joey Boccardi cranked a slapshot which went into the net.
6-2 Ice Bears.
UCO would score one more goal in the third period, but Missouri State held the Broncos and walked away with a 6-3 victory and a sweep.
When asked what Law thought he learned about his team with the sweep, he was more impressed with attitudes than strategy or goals.
“It was the character we had,” Law said. “When we needed to, we played a bend-but-don’t-break style of hockey, and we blocked more shots than any other team I’ve seen in (the WCHL). It’s big to see the guys pay the price for a win.”
The Ice Bears are now 6-0-0 in the WCHL, leaving them as the only undefeated team in the league. There are still 14 games left on their conference schedule – including two more at Central Oklahoma.
“These games are now two tough ones that are behind us,” Law said. “We have to keep building and getting better.”
Next week the Ice Bears will travel to Las Vegas to play the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. UNLV is currently No. 10 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division I. The Rebels lost two games to UCO last weekend and split a series with Arizona this weekend.
“(UNLV) is a good team,” assistant coach Clif Cook said. “They’re really, really good at home. It’s going to be another challenge, but we’re in the driver’s seat right now. If we pull off another good weekend, we’ll be in good shape.
The ACHA’s computer rankings, which determine which teams go to the national tournament in March, will be released after the UNLV series.
Follow Stephen Terrill on Twitter, @stevethe2nd
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