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Montana State men’s hockey set to make third consecutive trip to national championship

By Reagan Cotton, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – For the third year in a row, Montana State University’s club men’s hockey team will play in the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s Division 2 national tournament later this month. The team, with a 34-3 record this year, will travel to St. Louis for the tournament, where the Division 2 competition will be held March 11-15 at the Centene Community Ice Center. All national tournament games will be streamed live on FloHockey, which requires a subscription.

The Bobcats began their long season back in September with an 18-game winning streak that lasted nearly until Thanksgiving. They improved upon last year’s No. 2 ranking in the West Region as the top seed this year, a first for the program, which earned them an automatic spot in the national tournament. The stellar season earned head coach David Weaver his second consecutive regional coach of the year honor. Weaver, who is also the hockey director for the Bozeman Amateur Hockey Association, was also named national coach of the year after the 2022–23 season.

While taking the top seed is a first for the team, Weaver said it hasn’t changed their mindset going into the tournament. For some players, it will be a third national appearance in three years, while others will be experiencing the tournament for the first time.

The ACHA tournament will begin with pool play, in which each of the 16 qualified teams will play three games to determine which teams will make the Final Four. Last year, the Bobcats were eliminated after losing to a lower-seeded team. They haven’t allowed themselves to be swayed by bringing in the top seed this year.

“Even a No. 4 seed can take you out, as we learned last year,” said team captain Rhys Phelps, an MSU senior studying financial engineering who will make his third consecutive trip to the national tournament. “Last year at nationals, I think it was formative for us to see as a team what it takes to compete at a national level. I think we’ve learned those lessons and are going to take them into this tournament.”

MSU’s pool play games are already set; times and opponents are below and a full schedule of all 24 pool play games can be found on the ACHA website. The Bobcats will need to win at least two of those games to advance to the Final Four, which will be held Thursday and Friday, March 14 and 15. Heading into the tournament, the mental and physical toll of playing three games in as many days is something the team has intentionally prepared for.

“We try to get a couple times where we mimic this type of stretch during the season,” Weaver said. “One of our strengths is our depth, so we can rotate some guys in and out if we have injuries or fatigue. I think that depth is one of the differences between this team and past ones, and I think we’ll rely on that.”

In January, the team played a three-game stretch that included two games against Lindenwood University, then the top-ranked team in the nation, and one against Maryville University. They won all three, confirming not only the depth and talent on the team, but their ability to maintain a high level of play even during a grueling three days of competition. Phelps called that stretch a highlight of his career.

“To sweep that weekend was really big for us,” he said. “That’s what we’re going to look to do again at nationals. To win the championship, it’s five games in five days. It was fantastic to prove that we could beat the No. 1 team in the nation. It shows us that this is our year.”

Hockey is not an official NCAA sport at MSU, which means that as a club program, the team is mostly player funded, and the team holds fundraisers throughout the year to support their long season. But the weeklong trip to nationals poses a significant investment, so the program started a GoFundMe campaign in the hopes of raising the roughly $48,000 needed to cover transportation for players, coaches and equipment; lodging; and practice costs ahead of the tournament.

“The support from the community is tremendous. That includes the hockey community, the MSU community and beyond,” said Weaver. “These are experiences these players will never forget, and I think the community recognizes that. It warms my heart every year to see that support.”

ACHA Championship Schedule 

The Bobcat men’s hockey team will play three games in the pool play round of the ACHA National Tournament. All times are Mountain Time. Up-to-date information and game results can be found on the ACHA website.

  • Game 1: Monday, March 11, at 7:15 p.m. against Miami University.
  • Game 2: Tuesday, March 12, at 4:15 p.m. against Concordia University of Wisconsin.
  • Game 3: Wednesday, March 13, at 7:15 p.m. against Keene State College.
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