The Columbia Ice Eagles are just one win away from a Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association title following Thursday’s 4-3 win in game one of the best-of-three Varsity 2A finals against O’Fallon at the McKendree Rec Plex.
Columbia went up 3-0 after two periods before O’Fallon battled back to make it a nailbiter to the finish. Jacob Matthews notched a goal and an assist, with other Columbia goals scored by Sean Hofstetter, Hudson Miller and Cam Nowak. Londyn Little made 20 saves in net for the Ice Eagles.
Game two takes place 7:30 p.m. Monday night and game three, if necessary, will be played Tuesday.
One of two local teams advanced to the finals Monday night while the other was sent home for the season.
The Ice Eagles and Freeburg-Waterloo Raging Bulldogs appeared destined to face off for the league title as the top two teams in the standings for much of the season.
But since an intense Dec. 21 rivalry showdown won by Freeburg-Waterloo that improved its record to 13-0-1, the Ice Eagles have not lost and the Raging Bulldogs have struggled.
As it turns out, Columbia is tangling with defending champ O’Fallon in the final while Freeburg-Waterloo can only watch and wonder “what if?”
The Ice Eagles swept Collinsville in two games to reach the finals; O’Fallon swept past the Raging Bulldogs to earn its return finals trip.
The second round of the playoffs began Feb. 8 with Columbia posting a 7-4 win. Cam Nowak scored two goals with two assists and Hudson Miller added two goals in the victory.
On Monday, the Ice Eagles dominated in a 9-0 blasting of the Kahoks. Nowak again scored two goals with two assists, with Miller and Sean Hofstetter each scoring twice as well. Michael Walton added three assists.
Columbia goalie Londyn Little made 15 saves for the shutout.
“We haven’t really changed anything in how we’re approaching the playoff games,” Ice Eagles head coach Kevin Feager said. “What we did in the regular season worked well for us, so we’re pretty much leaving it as-is.
“As long as we go out and play the game the way we’re capable of playing, we like our chances.”
Seeking to avenge last year’s MVCHA finals defeat, Freeburg-Waterloo got off to a poor start against O’Fallon on Thursday, falling 4-1.
Paul Malacarne scored the team’s only goal on an assist from Jack Lugge.
In a do-or-die game two for Freeburg-Waterloo on Monday night, O’Fallon scored early and often in front of its home crowd in a 7-1 win to eliminate the ‘Dogs.
Ryan Kruse scored the only goal for Freeburg-Waterloo and goalie Trevor Smith still stopped 39 shots despite allowing seven goals.
Since improving to 13-0-1 following that Dec. 21 victory over Columbia, the Raging Bulldogs went 3-7-1 to close out the season.
Raging Bulldogs head coach Scott Roberts said the recent injuries of senior Frankie Libera and freshman Jacob Dinkelman definitely had an impact on the team’s late-season play. Libera suffered a concussion during the all-star game and Dinkelman suffered a broken wrist.
“The playoffs didn’t go as we wanted it to, but we’re happy with the season in general,” Roberts said. “We started off the season 13-0-1. A coach can’t complain about that.
“The boys worked very hard all year and battled up to the end. We were missing a few guys to injuries, so that didn’t help us.”
The team will only lose four seniors, so expect another strong showing for the Raging Bulldogs next season.
Regarding Columbia’s chances against O’Fallon in the finals, Feager is optimistic.
“We’ve had three solid games against O’Fallon this season, but we know they are a very talented team and capable of beating us on any night if we don’t come out ready to play,” he said. “They are the highest scoring team in the league, and we know they’re capable of putting up a lot of goals if we give them the opportunity.
“I think both teams have a lot of respect for each other, so it could be a very good series.”