The playoffs did not start off well for the Columbia Ice Eagles hockey team last week when they lost to Belleville East in the first game of the playoffs, 7-1.
“There are two ways to respond. You can either give up and say the season is over or fight back,” Ice Eagles coach Jeff Royer said.
Last Thursday night the Eagles chose the latter, winning in come-from-behind fashion, 4-2.
“We started a little bit slow,” Royer explained, stating that his team was behind 2-0 at the beginning of the game but a second period surge resulting in three goals put them on top for good.
“Our younger guys and smaller guys responded well to the physical play late in the game,” Royer said.
Freshman Blake Bulger and sophomore Kyle Eagan scored goals during the Ice Eagles comeback in the second period to add to the underclassmen effort. Columbia only has four seniors.
Royer credits the Ice Eagles defense as crucial to the team’s success. The coach says his team does not typically take more than 30 or so shots a game, making defense the key component to its game.
Tuesday, the team again faced East in the final game of the three-game playoff series for the Southern Division semifinals. If the Ice Eagles advanced they go on to play O’Fallon in the South Championships starting Thursday.
It is do-or-die time in the MVCHA, which is something coach Royer wants to stress to his players — to have a sense of “urgency” but without too much pressure of their season’s possible ending.
“You don’t want kids to grip their stick so tight they can’t play,” Royer stressed.
In order to continue their season and defeat Belleville East, Royer says there are a few players Columbia must take out of the mix.
“There are a couple of kids we have to shut down,” Royer said, adding that East’s goalie is out and that the Ice Eagles have to take advantage of the substitute goalie.
On the other side of the puck, Columbia’s goalie Joshua Fleming has been an important factor for the team all season. Fleming was joined by Jake Rein, Matt Royer, Tyler Overmann, and Zack Etherton as five players who represented the Ice Eagles in the MVCHA All-Star game on Feb. 5. No other team had as many players representing their team on the South Division All-Star team except for division power house O’Fallon.
Results of Tuesday’s playoff game came after press time. Unfortunately the Ice Eagles fell to Belleville East, 2-1.