Two years after winning the Wickenheiser Cup, the Marquette Mustangs are back with a chance for another championship.
The championship game of the Mid-States Club Hockey Association’s tournament is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday (March 13) at the Scottrade Center.
The Mustangs (18-8-2) will play the defending champion Westminster Christian Academy Wildcats (14-9-4).
Coach Gary Tockman is happy to have his squad back in the title game. He was an assistant coach two years ago on the title team.
“It is great for the program,” Tockman said. “Being a public school and having boundaries of where our kids come from, getting to the championship game is not an easy task so it is really a great accomplishment for this year’s team.”
In Tockman’s first season as the head coach last year, the Mustangs played in the Challenge Cup.
Going into this season, he certainly wasn’t thinking about playing at Scottrade.
“(I) Didn’t really look at it. We wanted to develop our kids skills-teach our schemes–and compete and if we did that, we would have success,” Tockman said. “It has been a roller coaster at times but we are happy where we landed.”
Two years ago, Marquette won its first championship in hockey with a 4-2 win over Francis Howell Central.
This year’s squad has eight athletes that were on the 2015-16 team. However, Tockman said only two of them “had the opportunity to dress” for that championship game.
“So this is a new for most everyone,” Tockman said. “With only two having played in that game, we are light on game experience but the eight that were there saw and experienced the environment leading up to and including the game so they will be able to draw on that.
“Once we get in the building and all the pre-game activities are done, every player will realize this is a game like they have played all seasons — a bit of a different environment but again, just one more game.”
Tockman remembers the last trip downtown.
“When we won two years ago, coach (Taylor) Paul and myself were very close,” Tockman said. “He was the young energetic coach and I was the old, salty dog but we made every decision together so that was a great experience and we will draw on that. I rely heavily on coach (Craig) Campbell, coach (Gregg) Rolfing coach (Mike) Selby and coach (Nathan) Pflantz so this is great for the entire staff.”
Marquette advanced to the championship game by besting Fort Zumwalt West in the semifinals.
The Mustangs won the opener 6-5.
“We were good offensively and but not so good defensively so that game was more up and down that we like to play,” Tockman said. “We actually had a three-goal leads two times so hung on for that win.”
In the second game of the series, Marquette lost 2-1.
“We changes up some of our defensive schemes to keep the game from being a track meet and it worked but their goalie (Cole Robinson) was really good,” Tockman said. “He made some huge saves. Nick Stewart played great both games for us but their goalie’s performance was the difference between games 1 and 2 for them in my opinion. We also gave Jake Rapp and occasionally, Ben Chase some additional defensive assignments to hold their top player- in my opinion (Logan Ritchie, who had 25 goals this season) in check and that certainly helped.
“We kept him off the score sheet in game 2 and even though we lost, that was a big factor. In the mini-game, we held him to one shot so those are some of the small things that go unnoticed but Jake, who had the lion’s share of the responsibility, did a great job.”
Marquette won the mini-game 1-0.
“The mini game was a great 10 minutes,” Tockman said. “We killed of two short-handed situations and scored on one of them, Then we killed off a 5–on-3 and eventually, a 6–on-3 when they pulled their goalie. At that point of the night, it was just a battle of attrition and we really gutted it out.”
When the horn sounded, Marquette survived.
“The boys were beyond excited,” Tockman said. “After the game, they had a great time but know that there is still more to do. The celebration was short.”
In facing Westminster, the Mustangs have hands-on experience. Marquette twice played the Wildcats this season, losing 7-2 and winning 6-0.
“They had two completely different rosters for those two games and we were missing players also,” Tockman said. “Just part of the gig in high school hockey so this will hopefully be a competitive game.”
Tockman said Marquette will be facing a quality opponent.
“They are very good, period,” Tockman said. “They have solid goaltending and quite a number of top end players. When you have players with high skill like they do, the pose numerous problems so we will do our best to address that.”
To become champions for the second time in three years, Marquette must do several things, Tockman said.
“We play a number of schemes and avoid depending on one or two players so if we execute those schemes — as a team — we have a chance to win,” Tockman said. “Some teams win by their superstars carrying them. We don’t.
“We absolutely expect our best players to be the best players but we demand and depend on 18 skaters to do their jobs. We get that, we can win.”
The timing is such, that Tockman does not believe the Mustangs can expect a large Marquette turnout for the game.
“Unfortunately we don’t. It is our spring break so that is disappointing,” Tockman said. “We have a number of kids that we hoped would be able to enjoy the experience but already have travel plans. The timing this year is unfortunate and a bit frustrating but life goes on.
“The great thing about Marquette is the alumni. I am confident we will have a larger contingency of those great folks. We had a couple players from past years teams come home for the game last weekend and I expect to see most of them Tuesday. We will bring those kids in to the mix as much as possible and let them use their experience to help this year’s team.”
Others will be on hand as well, Tockman said.
“There is a group of parents that come to games and support this year’s team,” Tockman said. “They came to (our) last game and then hung out after the game just like years past when they had kids playing. I’ve never seen such great support from alumni and alumni parents as you do at Marquette and I for one, appreciate them.”