Hockey '21-'22 season opener

Junior forward Brad Estrada bolts toward the net during the Razorbacks’ season-opening win against the East Texas Baptist Tigers on Sept. 17.

It was a long Friday night for both men who put on the goaltending equipment for East Texas Baptist University as the Razorback Hockey Club peppered them relentlessly for 60 minutes. Picking up from where they left off in April as national runners-up, the Ice Hogs struck 16 times in a shutout victory to open the 2021-22 season.

The 16 Razorback goals are the most the team has scored since defeating North Texas 18-2 during the 2018-19 season.

“We played really well on the offensive end, created a lot of chances, spent a lot of time with the puck on our stick, so that was a big positive,” said Arkansas head coach Keller Sims. “You know, 16 goals, a lot from all across the roster (and) up and down each line, a lot from our defensemen, so that was a big positive for us.”

After taking a few minutes to clear the opening night jitters, senior defenseman Cameron McAtee created a turnover in the Arkansas zone, sped up ice and buried a wrist shot from between the faceoff circles for the first goal of the season.

McAtee struck a second time almost three minutes later on the Razorbacks’ first power play. The Ice Hogs cycled the puck well on the man advantage, and McAtee pumped a slapshot from the blue line past the Tiger netminder.

For the rest of the contest, McAtee’s teammates tried to set him up for a hat trick whenever he found open ice in the offensive zone, but the defenseman could not find the net a third time.

“He was trying to get that third one the whole rest of the game,” Sims said. “I know he hit, like, three or four posts. (He) just couldn’t get that last one.”

It hardly mattered to the Razorbacks, as they found twine again 27 seconds after McAtee’s second tally. Freshman forward Truman Hirschy scored his first goal in an Arkansas sweater, finding a loose puck in the slot and sending it high to the goaltender’s stick side of the net.

The Razorbacks took a pair of minor penalties 22 seconds apart, but even down two men they managed to minimize pressure on sophomore goaltender Sam Haynes. After McAtee’s interference penalty expired, Arkansas traveled up ice and senior defenseman Kevin LaPlante found himself all alone in the right circle. His shot was in and out of the net, leaving players, coaches and fans alike uncertain, but the referee decisively pointed at the goal, signaling a 4-0 score.

Forwards Griffin Sugasawara, a senior, and Kyle Crews, a sophomore, increased the lead to 6-0 before the end of the first period. Both players were positioned optimally in front of the net and were able to notch their first goals of the season.

With a commanding lead a third of the way through the game, Sims said he told his players to be happy with what they had accomplished, but not satisfied.

“The focus is building good habits, you know, keeping our foot on the gas, trying to play a full 60 minutes of our style of hockey,” Sims said.

The Ice Hogs responded to that message, pouring on six more goals in the second period and four in the third. Twelve different Razorbacks appeared on the scoresheet, with McAtee, sophomore forward Trevor Borlace, senior forward Jake Sharrer and senior defenseman Jordan Deskeere tallying twice.

Even while Arkansas looked in control on the penalty kill, going 5-5 with the shorthanded goal, Sims’ biggest complaint was the number of penalties. His team will not be able to get away with that, he said, especially next weekend when the Razorbacks travel to Oklahoma City to face Division-I foe Oklahoma.

The Ice Hogs also recorded a second 16-0 win over the Tigers on Saturday, improving to 2-0 on the young season. Their two tilts with the Sooners are set for 8 p.m. Friday and 5 p.m. Saturday.

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