By: Joe Noser
Brendan Haselhorst played tremendously in goal and junior captain Brendan Wilson led a ferocious second period comeback effort, but it was not enough, as the University of Missouri’s men’s club hockey team fell 6-3 to the University of Kansas on Friday night at the Washington Park Ice Arena in Jefferson City, Missouri.
The contest was Mizzou’s first home game of the year and the first edition of the series of games the two teams will play each other in over the 2016-2017 season. These games represent the final remnant of the great Kansas-Mizzou rivalry once known as “The Border War” that ended when Mizzou left the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference in 2012.
After dominating Kansas in last year’s “Border War” contests, going 5-0 and winning by a combined score of 43-14, Mizzou entered the game with confidence that they would once again be able to beat their old rivals. But a persistent forecheck and strong defensive play proved to be the spark that helped the Jayhawks to pick up only its second victory in the ongoing rivalry between the two teams.
The first period was dominated by Kansas. Missouri, which was without its starting goalie, Billy Hindle, was held to no shots on goal through the first fifteen minutes of the period. Rush after rush of Kansas attackmen put consistent pressure on Missouri’s defense and backup goaltender Haselhorst, who was forced to make a couple of highlight reel glove and pad saves to keep his team within striking distance. Kansas was able to first get on the board at about the halfway point in the first period, when junior forward Preston McConnell sent a one-timer just over Haselhorst’s outstretched glove to give the Jayhawks a 1-0 lead. Not longer after McConnell’s goal, the Tigers were assessed a minor interference penalty. It looked as if the Tiger’s penalty kill unit was going to kill off the Jayhawk’s power-play, but a lack of communication between Haselhorst and his defensemen allowed Jayhawks senior defenseman Jack Halbrook to tap a loose puck in Missouri’s crease into the back of the net, giving Kansas a 2-0 advantage going into the first intermission.
Much of the second period was a different story, however. The Tigers came out of the locker room with significantly more aggression and tenacity, as they made the Jayhawks pay with a couple of big hits along the boards and used a ferocious forecheck to put Kansas’ defense on its heels. After a power-play led by junior captain Brendan Wilson that did not net a goal but was much better executed than their previous power-play effort in the first period, Mizzou was able to finally capitalize on the pressure they had been creating when right-winger Matthew Baker sent a blistering shot over Kansas goalie Kramer Vonville’s shoulder for a score. Then, with about ten minutes remaining in the second period, Missouri forward Hassan Baig sent a gorgeous backhanded shot through the legs of Vonville, tying the game at 2 a side. It looked as if Baig, who was turning around as he shot the puck to avoid an oncoming Kansas defender, went through his own legs as well when he shot the puck from point-blank range just to the right of Kansas’ crease. With the sparse Mizzou home crowd finally into the game and improved intensity, it looked as if the Tigers were going to be able to grab a lead of their own. But Kansas responded well, and the two teams played their most even hockey of the night for seven minutes, trading hit for hit and shot for shot. However, at the 18:00 mark in the second period, Kansas’ freshman forward, Jimmy Samuels, was able to skate the puck across Missouri’s blue line, deke past his defender, and beat Haselhort with a wrist shot from the left side of the crease to give the Jayhawks a 3-2 lead that they would prove to not relinquish. To make matters worse for the Tigers, Haselhort, who had been playing outstanding in both periods, sustained a lower body injury just before the second period horn sounded, causing him to be unable to continue in the third period.
Kansas came out in the third period with an obvious plan: get the puck behind Missouri’s net and generate as many chances as possible against third-string goalie Adam Kassly. The Jayhawks executed to perfection, sending a wave of shots at Kassly that overwhelmed both him and his defense. Halbrook was then able to pick up his second goal, giving Kansas a 4-2 lead, on a shot that came from right in the slot that Kassly barely had time to react to. Missouri’s frustration then started to show, as a contest that had been chippy all night boiled over into a legitimate fight when three Jayhawks and three Tigers started throwing punches with one another after the whistle before the referees and team’s respective captains were able to restore order. Kansas was not done, however, as they continued to pour it on a gassed Missouri defense, generating chance after chance from right in front of Missouri’s net, one of which was a backhander redirect that beat Kassly badly and gave the Jayhawks a 5-2 lead. Mizzou was able to muster a final comeback effort in the final five minutes of the contest, netting a rebound goal to make the game 5-3. But Kansas’ ensuing penalty kill and empty net goal put to rest and thoughts of a miracle Missouri comeback, and the Jayhawks picked up their first ever road win over the Tigers.
Missouri fell to 4-5 on the season, while Kansas improved to 7-2. The Tigers and the Jayhawks will play each other twice more: once October 15 in Jefferson City, and once on February 23, 2017 in Independence, Missouri, for the “Border War Showdown” game.