The SIUE hockey team’s season came to an end with a loss in the semifinal round of the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The Cougars won the first round of the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs against University of Illinois with a score of 5-4 on Friday, Feb. 14 in Springfield, Illinois. On Saturday, they advanced to the semifinal round, when they ended the season with a loss to Illinois State of 5-7.
Junior goalie Caleb Currie ranked eleventh in MACHA standings with a goal against average of 4.39. Goalie Justin Nosser, a master’s candidate, ranked twelfth with a GAA of 4.56.
The team, ranked third in the Gold division, headed into the playoffs on a two-game winning streak after sweeping Iowa State 4-0.
According to Luke Clevenger, media operator and broadcaster, the Cougars had played well leading up to the playoffs and were prepared for the intensity of the games, as MACHA playoffs are single-elimination.
“We secured up third place [in the division] but between those teams ahead of us, we had an okay track record. The goal is just to get as deep as we can so far. One bad game and you’re out, so it’s a pretty brutal playoff,” Clevenger said.
Nick Zellmer, the team’s defensive coach, said the team faced a unique challenge this season.
“We had a little unfortunate happenstance over winter break. Some of our guys were doing a Two-Plus-Two program at Lewis and Clark or SWIC, and unfortunately we learned those players are no longer eligible to play,” Zellmer said. “So right now we’re dealing with a significant drop in numbers.”
Zellmer said the players worked on new strategies to overcome the fact that many players couldn’t play.
“We’ve implemented a bit more of a conservative system to allow our guys to … hopefully conserve their energy over the course of the game and over the course of a weekend,” Zellmer said. “So we’ve kind of revitalized that.”
According to Zellmer, the team worked to improve their defense in several ways.
“There’s always room for improvement. We were going over some pretty simple schematic stuff … we want our other defensemen to be a little more engaged, more ready … so we can turn it back up the ice in a hurry,” Zellmer said. “Of course, there’s always room for improvement in just about every area of our game, but that was something we focused on specifically.”
Kain Henson, a fifth-year graduate student defenseman and team captain, said he has personally been working to improve specific skills for the playoffs.
“I personally have been focusing on my shot and shooting on the power play, but also just focusing on the mental side of the game — making sure everybody is dialed in, has the right mindset,” Henson said. “Everybody’s wanting to win … I want to make sure everybody’s on the same page here.”
According to Henson, the team improved this season by having more players step up to contribute when needed.
“Guys that were lower on the spectrum in the beginning of the year are really stepping up and bringing more to the table,” Henson said.
Although Henson is approaching an all-time points record by a Cougar defenseman, his record was not his main focus.
“It’s kind of in the back of my mind. It’s not really something I’m thinking about often,” Henson said.
SIUE hockey will return in October of 2020.