With the heartbreaking finish to the Ogden Mustangs’ 2017-18 season now a couple weeks in the rear-view mirror, players, coaches and fans have had some time to reflect wholly on the season that was.
Overall, it was a season filled with franchise bests, and another step forward for an organization that finds a way to improve year after year. In the end, the team’s first Western States Hockey League Thorne Cup Championship was yet again so close within their reach, but the Mustangs ultimately fell in the championship game to the host El Paso Rhinos. Still, the Mustangs take pride in what was the best season in franchise history, keeping the Mustangs at an elite level in the WSHL.
“It was a bittersweet ending,” said Mustangs head coach Jake Laime. “Although we expect to compete for a championship every season, I think this year, in many cases, we surprised ourselves. We had a resiliency to our game that was unprecedented.”
The Mustangs returned six players from the 2017-18 season. Matus Spodniak and Austin Dittenhafer filled leadership roles, both wearing the Cs on their jerseys. The Mustangs had three players come to Ogden from other WSHL programs. There were players from across the US, Canada, Sweden, Slovakia, Switzerland and Great Britain. The goal was to take a roster full of individuals and turn them into a team.
The Mustangs debuted new home and road jerseys this season, which were a hit, and were even featured on ESPN’s Uni Watch blog.
Throughout the season, the Mustangs would go on to wear five new jerseys in total, featuring new warm up jerseys, military appreciation jerseys and for the first time ever, Christmas jerseys. In total now, the Mustangs have worn 18 different jerseys in the team’s seven seasons.
The Mustangs won their first game of the season 3-2 on this shootout winner from Ian Currie against the Colorado Eagles.
The Mustangs went on to win that season-opening series on the road, against their historically-difficult rivals, showing signs early that this team could thrive in difficult circumstances.
After the first 25 games of the season, the Mustangs were 21-4, sitting in first place in the Mountain Division.
GOALS, GOALS, GOALS
The Mustangs scored 353 goals this season. That was 86 more than previous high, set last season.
On Oct. 13, the Mustangs set a franchise record with 19 goals scored in a single game.
They upped that one night later, putting up 20 goals.
While Spodniak led the team in goals with 69 and his linemate Jacob Laurin was next with 47, Ross Bartlett had 41, many of them on some jaw-dropping moves. For example, this backhand toe drag water bottle popper in Casper that was featured on Hockey Syndicate’s Instagram feed, getting 40,000+ views:
OPPOSITION AND RESILIENCY MIDWAY THROUGH THE SEASON
For the first time in four years, the Mustangs lost four games in a row this season. The stretch started with two losses to the Utah Outliers at the beginning of December. Then to make matters worse, Spodniak went down with an injury in the team’s next game, their opener at the Western States Shootout in Las Vegas. The team ended up losing its first two games at the showcase. But in the third and final game, still without Spodniak, and down 2-0 to the Valencia Flyers, the Mustangs were able to flip a switch, mount a comeback and score five straight goals to win 6-3. It was a big statement victory for the team, coming back to win and heading into a three-week break over the holidays with a bit of momentum and confidence back.
This was another example of stepping up in a difficult situation, and the Mustangs weren’t done yet. The composure and resiliency they played with when their backs were against the wall would come up huge down the stretch in in their playoff run.
More than 25 percent of the team’s victories this season (12 of 46) were comeback victories, in games where the Mustangs at some point trailed.
One of the more memorable and entertaining home series of the regular season was against the Tahoe Icemen. The Mustangs trailed the Icemen in all three of their games, but in all three, managed some thrilling comebacks such as this one:
HISTORIC SEASON FOR SPODNIAK
At the midpoint of the season, with Spodniak leading the WSHL in scoring, despite still being out the lineup with a high ankle sprain, and on pace to set multiple team and league records, the Mustangs made an announcement that would send waves throughout hockey circles. Spodniak had committed to play for American International College, an NCAA Division I program. This was an unprecedented move, jumping directly from the WSHL to NCAA DI.
Spodniak would go on to rack up a total of 166 points through the 2017-18 regular season and playoffs in 54 games played. In his previous two seasons combined, he compiled 163 points in 116 games played.
On Feb. 11, in miraculous fashion, Spodniak scored four goals in the first eight minutes against the Superior RoughRiders to tie and then break the WSHL all-time goals record.
In addition to holding such a prestigious league record, Spodniak holds the Mustangs franchise records in all-time and single-season goals, assists, points, powerplay points, game-winning goals and consecutive games registering a point.
Ogden Mustangs All-Time Points Leaders
1. Matus Spodniak – 329
2. Schuyler Seyfert – 210
3. Corey Iapalucci – 179
4. Montell Greene – 138
4. Jacob Laurin – 138
6. Austin Shea – 133
7. Alex Forbes – 119
8. Caleb Pola – 115
9. Ross Bartlett – 112
10. Dusty Watt – 108
Other Current Mustangs
Rhett Rampinelli – 90
Austin Dittenhafer – 76
Harry Gulliver – 73
We’ve pretty much been watching this compilation of Spodniak points on repeat all season:
(See a more updated version, which ends with his league-record-breaking goal, on our Facebook page.)
A MILESTONE FOR LAIME
In the first series of the new year against the Cheyenne Stampede, Laime hit a milestone of 200 career wins. To celebrate the occasion, a few of his former players from near and far sent video messages to congratulate him, shown as a surprise to Coach Laime on the video board at The Ice Sheet.
A BREAKTHROUGH SEASON FOR THE LOCAL KID
Ammon Anderson started the season as an extremely young, talented depth player for the Mustangs, from Syracuse, Utah. On the fourth line to start the year, he eventually worked his way up the depth chart with a lot of minutes on the second line and on the powerplay. At 15 years old, he became the youngest player to ever score a goal in a Mustangs jersey. At 16 years old, he became the youngest Mustang player to ever register a hat trick:
SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON
The Mustangs went 16-4 from Jan. 5 through March 4. Their final regular season series was March 2-4 against the Eagles. Both teams had identical records, meaning the winner of the series would secure a bye through the first round of the playoffs and home ice for the second round. That turned out to be pretty important. The Mustangs swept the series with 3-2, 6-1 and 3-0 victories, heading into the playoffs on a high note, where they would meet the Eagles yet again.
The Mustangs’ first playoff series was an absolute battle. The Eagles stunned the Mustangs with a 3-1 victory in Game 1, putting the Mustangs on the brink of elimination. But as they’d done all season, the Mustangs fought back. In a back-and-forth Game 2, the Mustangs were down 4-3 in midway through the third period when Currie tied the game up with his second goal of the game. Then, with just 1:08 left on the clock, this happened:
Game 3 was winner-take-all. And it was a rollercoaster ride to say the least. The Mustangs went up 3-0, appearing to be in clear control of this one, with a battered Eagles team running out of gas. Then, the Eagles somehow managed to score four straight goals in a span of 5:14, a couple off some weird bounces, to put the Mustangs back to playing from a deficit yet again. But yet again, the team persevered. Laurin got the tying goal and Spodniak the winning goal as the Mustangs punched their ticket to the division finals.
After a grueling series against the Eagles, the team fell ill to strep. With just a few days to prep for the Division Championship Series down the road in Salt Lake City, only three Mustangs were healthy enough to skate at the practice on Wednesday. By the time Friday’s puck drop rolled around, the team was far from 100 percent, but yet again, they were resilient.
In Game 1, the Mustangs were up 3-1 in the third period, but a late push by the Outliers tied the game, and they nearly won it in the final minute before the buzzer sounded. In overtime, the Mustangs knew the longer the game went, the harder it was going to be, considering the team’s health. Just 29 seconds into the overtime period, Laurin scored to give the Mustangs the 4-3 victory.
In Game 2, after Tymen Edelkoort III stood on his head the night before in goal, he wasn’t able to go in this one. Backup goaltender Jon Chin, who hadn’t had a start in more than two months, came in and played the game of his life, making 37 saves on 38 shots, preserving a 1-1 game which, once again, went into overtime. In OT it was Tyson Liverance who scored the sudden-death winner, sending the Mustangs to the Thorne Cup Finals as Mountain Division Champions.
It was the team’s third division championship in franchise history, but since winning back-to-back titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15, this was the first in three seasons.
THORNE CUP HEARTBREAK (AGAIN)
In the Thorne Cup Finals, the Mustangs wowed the league with impressive victories over the Outliers, Long Beach Bombers and Oklahoma City Blazers in the round robin. They faced the Bombers again in the semifinals and torched them 10-3. But in the championship game, the Mustangs just fell short to the host Rhinos, 3-2 in a heartbreaker.
The Mustangs continue their tradition of developing and placing players at the next level. So far, we know that next season at least four Mustangs will be playing NCAA hockey:
Spodniak – American International College – NCAA DI
Dittenhafer – UMASS Dartmouth – NCAA DIII
Edelkoort – Adrian College – NCAA DIII
Liverance – Saint Mary’s – NCAA DIII
BEST FANS IN THE WSHL
None of this would be the same this season without having the best fans in the WSHL along for the ride with the Mustangs.
This season, the Mustangs held more special events and had more fan interaction than ever before, featuring such things as our Inaugural Slapshot Open golf tournament, the formation of a Mustangs Kids Club, the continuation of our Habitat for Humanity collaboration, multiple skates with the team, exclusive season ticket holder events, a really fun playoff watch party and end-of-season dinner.
And of course you packed the house. Our average attendance numbers go up every season. Our playoff crowds were unreal, averaging 1,700+. We’ve got more to come in the coming season to entertain, engage and unite our fan base even more.
You helped us this season to 22 home wins, the most home wins in franchise history. Let’s do it again next season!
Players eligible to return next season:
1 season of eligibility remaining –
– Jacob Laurin – 120 pts
– Ross Bartlett – 104 pts
– Rhett Rampinelli – 83 pts
– Ryan Mascali – 30 pts
– Matts Thielemann – 23 pts
– Daniel Nordstrom – 17 pts
2 seasons of eligibility remaining –
– Harry Gulliver – 51 pts
– Ian Currie – 44 pts
– Kerry Kruzel – 30 pts
– Bryson Bartell – 28 pts
4 seasons of eligibility remaining –
– Ammon Anderson – 42 pts