The Blue and Cold’s hopeful return to Texas fell just short last weekend. From Feb. 27-29 in Boise, Idaho, the guys lost in the west regional tournament to the Lumberjacks of Dakota College at Bottineau. The Cats’ hockey program came into this season with high expectations after reaching the ACHA Division II National Tournament for the first time in the team's history. The hype for this year continued to build with the off-season addition of NHL veteran and Olympian Peter Budaj to the teams staff. The Cats’ rolled through the competition during the vast majority of their 2019-20 campaign, concluding the most successful regular season in program history. MSU was awarded the fourth ranking in the west region and traveled down to Boise as a favorite to qualify for nationals for the second straight year.
Being the second-highest-ranked team in the tournament, the Bobcats got a bye through the first round of the tournament. In their first game, the Blue and Cold faced off against the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks, the ninth-ranked team in the west. MSU dominated the Jacks 6-0 and moved on to the next round again the seventh ranked Dakota Jacks. With the winner guaranteed a trip to the national tournament in Texas, the pressure to complete the Bobcat program’s first-ever repeat to the big dance was on. The Cats and Jacks were scoreless going into the second period, then Dakota took control. The Jacks ran off to a 3-1 lead and secured the 4-2 win in the third period.
While the Blue and Cold came up just short of another trip to the Lonestar State, what they accomplished this season was still a big deal for Big Sky Country. The 2019-20 Cats made history by having the most successful regular season in program existence, a feat that will now stand as a team standard. Undoubtedly, a trip to nationals was one of the big goals for the Bobcats this season, and while it is unfortunate they failed to qualify, this year could provide a crucial learning opportunity for the Cats. With a current roster full of underclassmen, their response to this season's mix of incredible success and incredible letdown will be pivotal in the direction this program heads.
The most important aspect of any season is concluding if the program grew and got better than the season prior. While the Cats fell just short of a repeat trip to the big dance, they also certainly provided that as a whole, this team is only getting better. Last season MSU just barely got into the regional tournament being ranked ninth out of the 10 teams invited. This season they entered with a first round bye and a top two seed in the tourney. Next season, they will return to the ice with more maturity and experience, competing again to be one of the top teams in the region. For seniors Ryan Padden and Ryan Perius, next year will be a final opportunity to again lead their team to new frontiers, contributing as two of the top scorers. The team’s top scorer Zach Lane, will be returning next year for his highly anticipated sophomore season after scoring 25 goals in his first winter in Bozeman.
The Blue and Cold are beginning to find their space in the MSU/Bozeman sports world. Their games aired on local cable channel SWX and articles are popping up on regional sports publications such as www.406mtsports.com. Their home games are drawing a higher attendance each year despite playing across town in Haynes Pavilion, and their brand is becoming more synonymous with the school, hence the MSU hockey sweaters at the bookstore. This respect and attention is due to the program expectations created by the players and the staff. Their hard work and dedication help MSU develop a club hockey team worth celebrating and a program the student body and local community is excited to support. Congratulations to MSU hockey on a fantastic season and we look forward to next year’s campaign.