Despite the geographical differences between the lush green forests and snow-capped mountain ranges of Whistler and the flat, golden prairies of Missouri where the sky stretches on ad infinitum, the move south to play for the Missouri State Ice Bears in the NCAA went better than expected for Whistler Minor Hockey alums Cody Flann, Noah Brusse and Noah Malthaner.
While being able to make the move with a couple longtime friends no doubt added to the smooth transition for the trio, it was the hot start to the season for the Ice Bears that really brought the entire team together quickly, according to -Flann.
“It’s not always easy adjusting to the new country and environment and school, but I thought we all adjusted pretty good. Just having those two familiar faces with me was definitely helpful,” he said. “And I think the season went really well. At the start, we were clicking as a team … and a lot of the guys down here, we became really good friends. So by the end of the season, I felt like I had a bunch of good friends that I knew really well.”
After the hot start, which saw the Ice Bears win 14 of their first 18 games, the team hit a bit of a slump to round out the year, finishing with an overall record of 19-10-3. Their struggles continued through the national championship tournament where they failed to win a game, despite their strong ranking inside the top 20 of the American Collegiate Hockey Association.
But even though the season didn’t end the way they had hoped, each of Flann, Brusse and Malthaner described their individual experiences in their first season of college hockey as a success.
Flann, the only forward of the three, got off to a quick start, producing just under a point per game while finding a role as his line’s defensive conscience. Unfortunately, as has been the case for years, Flann’s heavy game led to his season being cut short by injuries.
“It’s not fun. You never want to be injured, but I’m kind of used to it at this point. I just have to keep working on being healthy and whenever I am playing, I can’t strive away from my game, I have to still play physical and hard-nosed,” said Flann. “But it’s part of the game and it does suck that it has to be like that, but I’m a shorter guy and I play like I’m bigger ... that’s just how I’ve always played, and injuries have always been part of that. Maybe I’m playing a bit too hard for my size, but that’s just how I’ve always played, and I can’t change myself.”
The two Noahs, on the other hand, each found success on the backend, but did it in different ways.
Brusse, despite being a rookie, finished the year as the team’s highest scoring defenceman, while Malthaner found himself in more of a shutdown defensive role with the team.
“I started off on powerplay but as the season went on, I kind of moved to playing more penalty kill and just solid defensive play. I didn’t get scored on much, still an all-around game, but just a little more defensive-minded,” said Malthaner. “I always want to have an all-around game, so I wouldn’t say that I just focus on one end of the ice, but when you move up to the next level sometimes there are guys that are better than you at certain things. So it wasn’t new by any means, but maybe just a little bit of a change not playing powerplay.”
With the season over and the school year quickly coming to a close, the boys are excited to return to B.C. for the offseason. Brusse is heading to the Island for the summer where he will live and work in Victoria, while Flann and Malthaner will be returning home to the Sea to Sky with plans of taking it easy, working and enjoying everything summer in the area has to offer.
Heading into next season, with Flann already making the decision not to return to Missouri next year and Malthaner still on the fence as well, Brusse might be making the trip south by himself as the Ice Bears’ lone Whistler representative.
But regardless of where Flann and Malthaner end up, Brusse is focused on building off the success of this season and hopes to see his team take another step forward and increase its rankings for the end-of-year national championship tournament.
“I know we want to have a better performance at nationals next year and obviously getting back there is always the goal, I’d say maybe try to get a higher ranking than this year even,” he said.
“Lots of our freshmen players and first-year guys were some of our top scorers on the team and some of the guys getting the most minutes, so I think just adding to that with a couple years of experience means good things are coming.”