Jonah Hofmeyer — Staff writer
Cheers echoed throughout the Vernon Arena as the Dordt University Defenders took on the Missouri State Bears on Friday, Feb. 3. The loud cheers of the crowd and the Defender Pep Band’s music echoed around the rink. The music and shouts clashed in a loud ruckus that shook the building and blended with the repeated crack of pucks hitting the wall. These violent and beautiful noises are what make up a Defender hockey game.
The Defenders played Missouri State twice that weekend, losing the first game on Friday to a winning goal in the third period. That goal put the Bears ahead 4-3 for a decisive victory.
Dordt came back with a vengeance on Saturday, Feb. 4, winning against the Bears 4-3 by a goal Jacob Petrie scored late in the third period.
Missouri State is ranked 10th in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) Division III rankings, while the Defenders are ranked 23rd. Hayden Stevens, a goalie for the Defenders, was excited about the win.
“That was the biggest win I’ve been a part of all my time at Dordt,” Stevens said.
The two weekend games were important for the Defenders as they look towards the conference tournament on Feb. 10. The Defenders will have to win against the University of Nebraska in order to move on in the district tournament. Dordt played against Nebraska before Christmas break at home and drew the weekend series 1-1 with them.
The more the team wins, the better chances they have of raising their rank, and the Defenders need to be ranked within the top 16 to make the National ACHA Division III Tournament in Boston. That tournament will be played March 16-21.
Tyler Morgan is the head coach of the hockey team, and he has been with the team since 2019. Speaking on the season, Morgan said he has seen a lot of improvement for such a young team.
“The team has been just so consistent,” Morgan said. “We’ve been learning and growing in an upward direction. Every weekend we could look back and say we got a little better.”
The team met a hurdle after Christmas break. Three students left the hockey program for various personal reasons. Noah Wilmes, a sophomore on the team, said that this was a struggle at first.
“I think we made excuses. We had two losses the first weekend back [from Christmas break],” Wilmes said. “We made excuses like we didn’t have the amount players as before.”
The hockey team this year is young, consisting of over 10 freshman. Morgan says this brought some challenges.
“At the college level, you could be playing guys that are anywhere from 18-25 years old. Some of our guys struggled with getting used to playing older guys.” Morgan said, remarking also that he has seen these freshmen grow this year, becoming more comfortable in their positions.
The coach is satisfied with how the year has gone so far.
“It’s been such a fun year,” Morgan said. “It’s been fun to see the young guys grab onto the program and make it what it has become.”
While the season isn’t quite over yet, Hayden Stevens already has high hopes for next season.
“I think we can be top 16 next year. Throughout the whole year,” Stevens said. “I think that’s a good goal for next year.”
Photo Credit: Dordt University Athletics