From The Standard
By Stephen Terrill and Blake Biswell
The Missouri State Ice Bears could not afford to lose games this weekend if they wanted to compete for a Western Collegiate Hockey League championship.
Coming into the weekend, MSU was only two points behind league-leading Central Oklahoma. Since a win counts for three points in the standings and UCO swept Colorado, a loss could have put them at a significant disadvantage.
All of that no longer matters as the Ice Bears swept the Oklahoma Sooners. Here’s how the weekend broke down:
It was the tale of two periods to start night one.
The Ice Bears struggled to get into a rhythm in the first period and were hurt by numerous penalties.
Goaltender Matt Griffin kept things clean, however, and MSU was able to escape into the first intermission as Oklahoma was left scoreless.
“In our first period there was no flow and we took some bad penalties,” coach Jeremy Law said.
Law said he was frustrated with the number of penalties in the first period and his message to his players was clear during the first intermission.
“Stay disciplined,” Law said. “I agreed with the refs on a couple. I also thought there were a couple bad calls.”
The Ice Bears returned to the ice in the second period and looked like a different team.
“In the second period we stayed disciplined and our offense got clicking and we created some flow of the game,” Law said. “I think our second period set us up for the win.
MSU erupted for four goals in the second period in what was the turning point of the match. Forward Jared Bratton also secured a hat trick in what was a breakout game for the freshman.
“He’s a super skilled guy,” Law said. “In practice, he has a ton of confidence and he looks like that all the time. Tonight was kind of the first night it really translated on the ice.”
In the third period, the Ice Bears silenced a two goal run from Oklahoma by scoring a final insurance goal late to secure a 5-2 win.
Law went with Griffin again in net for game two, and was rewarded.
Defenseman Jake Kopinski scored on a powerplay in the first period to give the Ice Bears a lead. Friday night’s four-goal second period by MSU was not repeated, and instead Oklahoma scored the middle frame’s only goal to tie the game 1-1. Missouri State was on the penalty kill for over four straight minutes near the end, but Griffin made several athletic saves to keep it tied.
Bratton scored his fourth of the weekend in the early stages of the third period, and forward Jack Brachbill collected an insurance goal with five minutes left to give MSU a 3-1 win.
“Discipline was a lot better for us tonight,” Law said. “And we had really solid defense. We were blocking more shots and our penalty kill was great tonight.”
Next weekend — league title?
Missouri State has never won a WCHL championship since they became a member in 2015, when the team moved up to the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division I. While next weekend’s series against UCO may not determine it, it will give one team control of their own destiny.
If Missouri State wins both games, they will have a four-point lead over UCO and only two WCHL games left, both of which will be against Colorado. If the Ice Bears win out, the championship and the league’s automatic bid to the national tournament will be theirs.
If Central Oklahoma wins both games, the Broncos will have an eight-point lead and cannot be caught by anyone.
If the teams split the weekend, UCO will still lead by two points and have to wrap things up in their final league series against Oklahoma.
“We’ve been stressing the past couple of weeks how important it is to win to be ready (to play UCO),” Law said. “We know we’re playing for something next weekend and we all know how much this could mean.”
(Originally published at http://www.the-standard.org/sports/ice-bears-keep-pace-in-wchl-title-race-with-weekend-sweep-of-oklahoma/article_4411f00a-7d35-11ec-82f8-c358f16df536.html)