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All-Metro ice hockey player of the year: Marquette's Weatherford had a playoff run to remember

All-Metro ice hockey player of the year: Marquette's Weatherford had a playoff run to remember

From the 2021 All-Metro ice hockey series
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Isaac Weatherford didn’t plan on playing hockey for Marquette this season.

He and the Mustangs are happy his plans changed.

Weatherford, a 5-foot-11 goaltender, was set to play junior hockey in New Hampshire when coronavirus struck. He was living in a dorm, which didn’t sit well with his parents.

“It was a family decision,” Weatherford said. “We thought it would be best if I came back to St. Louis.”

The Mid-States Club Hockey Association season had started by the time Weatherford returned, so the junior had to talk to Marquette coach Gary Tockman about joining the team.

“I said I'm glad to have you back, but I just want to let you know that (Cole) Eckert’s been here and you're just going to have to wait your turn, and get whatever starts you can,” Tockman said. “He said I totally get it. I'm totally fine with that. I just want to be part of the program.”

Starts were hard to come by as Eckert proved himself to be one of the top goalies in Mid-States.

But Weatherford made the most of his opportunities to force a tough decision come playoff time.

“I said, I don't care which one of you plays, I love you both,” Tockman said. “I'm going to play whoever is hot and they both agreed.”

That is when Weatherford transformed into a forest green and navy wall in leading the Mustangs to the Challenge Cup final.

Marquette vs. De Smet

Marquette's Isaac Weatherford (61) celebrates after a shutout in a hockey game in the Challenge Cup semifinals on Saturday, February 20, 2021 at the Centene Community Ice Center in Maryland Heights, Mo. Paul Halfacre, STLhighschoolsports.com

Weatherford went 5-2-1 in the postseason with five shutouts. He allowed just five goals on 212 shots and had a .976 save percentage.

Weatherford is the Post-Dispatch All-Metro ice hockey player of the year.

“During the playoffs, I just kept on doing the same thing,” Weatherford said. “I was little superstitious throughout it, so I just kind of did the same thing, same routine every single day.”

That included a regimen of sleep, shower and getting to the rink two hours before game time. It also included a stop at Red Lobster for a pregame meal of coconut shrimp.

“I don't ever talk to goalies before the game, but I'll sneak a peek now and then in warmups or when he gets a drink of water,” Tockman said. “It looked like it was just another game, like it was just practice almost. It was pretty incredible.”

Weatherford’s dominance started with a 1-0 win over top-seeded De Smet, in what was a must-win game for the Mustangs after dropping their first game of the Challenge Cup preliminary round robin.

The Spartans peppered Weatherford with 33 shots, but he stopped them all, keeping Marquette afloat until Tyler Sillanpaa scored in the third period to break the scoreless tie.

That became the winning formula for Marquette — allow a high volume of shots while keeping most of the chances to the perimeter, knowing Weatherford will stop them; then capitalize when an offensive chance presented itself.

“We have the mentality that all 20 guys would be all in every single game and throughout the season and playoffs we did that,” Weatherford said. “And that's why we had such a great playoff run and the team comes first so we just had that same mentality.”

03/06/2021 - ice hockey - Marquette vs CBC

CBC Cadets senior defenseman Blake Harper (19) congratulates Marquette Mustangs junior goalie Isaac Weatherford (61) on his efforts during the Mid States Club Hockey Challenge Cup 2021 championship game played on Saturday March 6, 2021 at Centene Ice Center in Maryland Heights, Mo. Rick Ulreich, Special to STLhighschoolsports.com

Weatherford’s run continued in the next round, shutting out St. Louis U. High on 20 shots in Game 2 of their quarterfinal series to force a minigame. Weatherford made 11 more saves in a scoreless minigame and seven more saves in a nine-round shootout before John Bush’s goal sent Marquette into the semifinals.

Weatherford continued to frustrate De Smet in Game 1 of the semifinals, turning away all 39 shots in a 2-0 win. He followed that with 40 saves in Game 2 and 12 more saves in the minigame before Ty Stultz scored 39 seconds into a sudden death period to send Marquette to the championship game.

Though the Mustangs fell short to CBC 2-0 in the Challenge Cup final, Weatherford still made 35 saves and was the talk of the postseason.

“My goalie coach just taught me just keep it one shot at a time and keep things simple, don't do anything too complicated,” Weatherford said.

With the season over, Weatherford has two favorite moments from the Mustangs’ run.

The first was Stultz’s goal to eliminate De Smet to send Marquette to the championship. The second was taking the ice for warmups before the championship game.

“I was something I will never forget,” Weatherford said. “I know it wasn't at Enterprise Center, but it was still such a great experience and Mid-States did a great job of organizing that whole thing and allowing fans to come in.”

Lost, but certainly not forgotten within the Marquette program, was Eckert’s contribution. Eckert played most of the regular season and had two shutouts with a .883 save percentage.

But Eckert became Weatherford’s biggest cheerleader in the postseason, putting the team first while recognizing the special run his teammate was on.

“I can't say enough about him,” Tockman said. “He just didn't complain, he was excited, he was the first guy on the ice, jumping on Isaac when we won the game. I mean he was on the bench, pumping the kids up. He's just an awesome kid.”

The play of Weatherford and Eckert earned the respect of their teammates.

“It gives us a lot of opportunity to be more open-minded with our play, because we know that we can always count on both of them to make a save when we need them too,” Marquette senior Justin Rapp said before the championship game.

The good news for Marquette is both Weatherford and Eckert are juniors and both plan on returning for their senior season with a talented core coming back as well.

Weatherford knows Eckert will push for playing time. The friendly goalie competition should serve Marquette well next year and beyond.

“Eighth graders and seventh graders who are looking at this program are going to want to play even more for this program,” Weatherford said. “I think we've planted the seed and it's only going up from here.”

ALL-METRO ICE HOCKEY FIRST TEAM

ALL-METRO ICE HOCKEY SECOND TEAM

ALL-METRO ICE HOCKEY THIRD TEAM

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