Let there be hockey!

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Pictured is Columbia’s Joe Soetaert during a game last season. (Corey Saathoff photo)

There will be an ice hockey season after all for the Freeburg-Waterloo Raging Bulldogs and Columbia Ice Eagles, as the Mississippi Valley Club Hockey Association announced a playoff schedule last week.

The league had canceled its regular season due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions in the region. Once those restrictions were lifted to allow for certain athletic events, the MVCHA organized a playoff system to at least give teams some semblance of a season.

“It will be a much different season, much more like a tournament,” Ice Eagles head coach Kevin Feager said.

The MVCHA varsity league will consist of two six-team conferences playing a round-robin schedule.

After five round-robin games, the top three teams in each conference advance to the playoffs.

“So instead of each team being guaranteed 18-20 games like most seasons, the teams will only play a minimum of five games, and not all teams will make the playoffs,” Feager explained.

The MVCHA playoffs will be played in a best-of-three series format, with all games at the East Alton Ice Arena.

No students are allowed at any games and only two parents are allowed to attend per player.

The Raging Bulldogs and Ice Eagles were placed in the same conference along with O’Fallon, Belleville, Collinsville and Edwardsville East.

The truncated season began Tuesday night and continues through May.

“Each team will have a few weeks without playing a game,” Raging Bulldogs head coach Scotty Roberts said. “If a team comes down with COVID, they have to forfeit. No games are being made up.”

Freeburg-Waterloo opened play Tuesday night against Belleville, losing 10-1. The Raging Bulldogs were playing without two of their top players, Logan Ganz and Jacob Dinkelman.

“We only had 10 guys and missing Ganz and Dinkelman didn’t help,” Freeburg-Waterloo head coach Scotty Roberts said. “We hung in there for the first period and then they just wore us out.”

Ganz was participating in Carshield AAA hockey practice, as they are in the middle of national qualifying play. Dinkelman was out with a concussion.

 The Raging Bulldogs, who downed O’Fallon, 6-5, last Wednesday to end their exhibition schedule at 5-2-1, battle rival Columbia this coming Tuesday night.

Other key players for Freeburg-Waterloo include Connor Blair, Shea Sudemeyer, Mikey Gildehaus and eighth grader Caiden Anderson.

After losing 12 seniors last season, the Ice Eagles only have five seniors this year: Dylan Lalk, Jack Augustin, Landon Renner, Kyle Budde and Sam Campbell. 

Columbia’s defense is anchored by junior Tim Barbee in goal.

“We’ll be relying on juniors Joe Soetaert, Glenn Powers, Jordan Smugala, Collin Schmidt, sophomore Ryan Foster and freshman Rece Sanderson to carry the load this year on offense, but we also expect our defense to help out on the offensive side,” Feager said. “With a five-game season, there isn’t a lot of room for error. We can’t afford to have a bad game or two, and we can’t afford to play undisciplined.”

The Raging Bulldogs surrender a goal during a 10-1 loss to Belleville to begin the MVCHA postseason on Tuesday night. See more photos from the game by clicking here. (John Spytek photo)
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