It’s December in the ACHA. It’s a time of crunching for finals and making plans to spend the holidays with families. For Head Coach Bob Bucher, there is no rest for the wicked (he’s actually a nice guy). Coach Bucher was kind enough to take the time to humor me and talk a bit about the Missouri State hockey program.
The Missouri State coaches, while getting a chance for a bit of a rest time, will also be handling and directing new recruits for the future season/s of IceBears hockey:
“I get to watch some of the players interested in coming from St. Louis. We kind of split it up, one of my Assistant Coaches lives in Springfield. He’s going to watch the Western States teams. One of the guys is going to go Las Vegas for the Western States Showcase. I’m going to go to the North American Showcase. We’re pretty fortunate that we have a young team this year in terms of going out and replacing. It’s not as bad as last year when I had to find 10 new guys. This year I only have to find 4. I already have more than enough lined up, the move to Division I has certainly helped us in that regard.”
Can you talk a bit about the process and decision on going from an ACHA DII team to making that jump to the DI level this season?
We knew going into it last year. My mentor for this jump has been Craig McAlister (Head Coach at Central Oklahoma). We just didn’t know when the right time was going to be for us to make the jump. After playing UCO four times last year and being able to sit down & talk with Craig privately, it was kind of like, there is no time like the present.
Part of that was what we already had within the program. The other part was knowing that once you make that jump, it opens you up to a larger population of players that would be interested in coming to play at your program. For us, for myself and the other coaches, we knew going into it, is that what it would do for us is give us more consistency with opponents. For my 3 years prior to this with the program, doing a DII team, we had weekends where we were playing close to this caliber of competition and then we had weekends where we were playing teams that didn’t offer us that same consistency. It made it really hard as you got to the postseason, when you’re finishing up with teams that aren’t that same consistency or caliber and then all of a sudden you’re going up against the top teams, ranking wise, in the country.
From my standpoint and from many of my players standpoint that are returning, the veterans, they wanted that consistency. They knew that although we might not have as many victories, it was still going to make every game a competitive battle and hard fought and fun to be a part of. That’s something most of them were used to. That’s what they wanted as a group. That’s when we sat down and after talking with Craig we said “OK, is it the right time?” We couldn’t say no to making that move because the players wanted it.
It’s been everything I’ve expected and more. I am on a weekly basis amazed at the caliber of talent that plays in the Division I portion of the ACHA. There are so many players that you think could be playing NCAA DI and you just know that there aren’t enough schools out there that have the programs or not enough spots. The fact that it is taken as seriously as it is and the fact that it is as competitive as it is, it means so much to every organization. It makes it that, if you want to call it failure for those guys that should be playing in the NCAA that aren’t, easier to take too many degrees. Certainly from the Division III status of the NCAA.
It’s been a great experience for me and for my guys to this point. We talk about that a lot. We know how lucky we were to have the support and backing of the long standing teams within the WCHL . Having Arkansas as a traveling partner; I have a very good relationship with Brian Gallini, their head coach. There’s been a lot of respect between our program and their program over the years. It just made the whole transition, not without bumps, but certainly a lot easier to become a part of and to establish ourselves.
That makes a lot of sense, getting the consistency put in place. In the latest rankings the ACHA puts out every week, MSU sits in the 21st spot. Not bad for a new DI team in a pretty tough conference, the WCHL.
Since the computer came out we’ve been within the top 25 the whole time. I can’t say that I go into this, saying “ok if we are in the top 25, I’m going to be happy, we’re going to be happy as a team”. When I look at who all is there and teams that have been in Division I for so long, to be in that, it is an honor. It is an achievement. We aren’t finished. We still have a goal to attain. My guys still want to get in that top 20 and finish in a spot that will qualify them for the National Tournament. To date, being in that top 25 is an accomplishment, at least for our program and the organization.
The players look for more. If they didn’t, I don’t think I’d be happy that they weren’t.
Is there a team in the conference you haven’t played previously?
Arizona was new to us. Colorado was new to us. Colorado State was new to us. Oklahoma was new to us. The only one we had really played in the recent past was Central (Oklahoma). I do know in the longer past, the organization had played games with Oklahoma. So yea, this is all pretty much new to us except for Arkansas and Central Oklahoma.
The hockey team seems to have a great support system. You have a strong Booster Club and fan base, not to mention your players interact a lot with the community:
We do. We are very fortunate to have it. Our previous General Manager stepped down this past summer, health reasons for his father, who is in his 90’s and a huge fan of ours. Curt Bussen, who was the assistant GM at the time, along with the student body, became part of the hockey team. They built the organization around, “Ok yes, hockey is important, but we’re going to do these things.” We have groups that have been coming to our games as guests of ours for 15 years now.
We go out and do the typical things around the holidays. We’ve been very fortunate to build a relationship with these groups. We are able to go out to the Kid’s Ranch, we’re able to work with Big Brothers & Big Sisters and get those kids on the ice with us. It’s amazing for me as a coach and my staff, along with the players to have those experiences.
Chris Perry (WCHL Commissioner) was in town last weekend and I think we had close to two sellouts. We packed over 2,200 into the stands over the weekend. That’s pretty consistent, that’s something that we were doing even at Division II. We play Mizzou every year because they are in state rivals and I can tell you that it is absolute chaos. There are people standing in line for tickets four hours before game time. It’s insane.
If you are a hockey fan and find yourself near Springfield, MO during the hockey season, you owe it to yourself to attend a game. It’s always a great thing to see, as a hockey fan, the support and respect of a team and the community that team plays in. The more I learn about the program and talk with those involved, the more I am becoming a fan. I’m from Illinois, I don’t say that lightly.
The Ice Bears will be in Oklahoma January 9th and 10th. Back in November, the Sooners defeated the Icebears in both games at Springfield. Missouri State is currently #21 11-14-0 in the ACHA National rankings; Oklahoma is ranked #10 with a 12-6-2 record.
A look at the current WCHL standing and their ACHA rankings: Link Here