Despite losing the first game of the series, and trailing late in the second and third games, the Ogden Mustangs somehow found a way to pull off a remarkable series victory over the Colorado Jr. Eagles last weekend at The Ice Sheet.
It was the fourth straight season that the Mustangs and Eagles met in the playoffs in Ogden. The Eagles had picked up razor-thin 2-1 series victories in both of the past two seasons. This time, still an incredibly-tight matchup, the Mustangs were able to pull it off.
The Mustangs had a tough time getting much flow going in Game 1 on Friday, as the Eagles took a 3-1 victory. It was just the fourth time in the 52 games played this season that the Mustangs — the third-highest scoring team in the Western States Hockey League — were held to a single goal. They averaged 7.9 goals per game in the regular season.
“After Friday our backs were against the wall,” said Mustangs forward Ian Currie. “If we didn’t win the next two games our season the season was over. That gave guys a bit of desperation, which was what we needed.”
In Game 2, the desperation definitely helped the Mustangs come out strong, getting a Sage Fleming goal to go just 44 seconds into the game. Currie added another one in the first period to make it 2-0. But as they did all weekend, the Eagles kept clawing back, eventually taking a 4-3 lead midway through the third period after a tough bounce off of referee’s leg led to a Colorado goal.
Down a goal, with the season on the line, Currie took over, scoring the equalizer with 9:44 remaining and the go-ahead goal on a spinning effort in front of the goal mouth with just 1:08 on the clock.
“I just tried to stay within the system and do my job,” Currie said. “The puck just kept finding me and sneaking past the goalie.”
On Saturday, in the deciding Game 3, it was another wild, back-and-forth contest. The Mustangs scored the first three goals of the game. Then the Eagles scored the next four. The Mustangs tied the game at 4-4, then 34 seconds later, the Eagles went up 5-4. All of that scoring, nine total goals, took place in the second period.
In the third period, Jacob Laurin tied the game on a goal off the rush with 16:25 remaining. Then, fittingly, it was the Mustangs’ leading scorer this season, Matus Spodniak wiring a slapshot past a screened Colorado goaltender to put the Mustangs up for good.
Tyson Liverance set the screen on the goal and was a key physical, defensive presence for the Mustangs throughout the weekend.
“It was a battle of a series,” Liverance said. “The Eagles are a fast team and they’re a hard-working team, but we were able to play tough through three zones and dominate with puck possession and shots.”
Total shots on goal in the series were 144-102 for the Mustangs. The Eagles played two different goalies while the Mustangs stuck with Tymen Edelkoort III who made some huge saves in the series, especially during some crucial stretches of penalty killing.
The Mustangs now advance to the Western States Hockey League Mountain Division Finals this coming weekend against the Utah Outliers in West Valley City. The Outliers are coming off a series that was much tighter than many expected. The No. 4 Superior RoughRiders to the No. 1 Outliers to overtime in the third game before Utah was able to get the sudden-death winner.
It will once again be a best-of-three series this weekend. This is the first ever division finals to feature both WSHL teams from the state of Utah. The two teams played nine games against each other in the regular season with the Mustangs winning four of the games and the Outliers winning five.
“It should be a hard-fought series,” Liverance said. “We’re working hard to get ready for them. In order to be successful, we’re going to have to control the neutral zone and stay out of the penalty box.”
Adding to the Mustangs challenges is a bout of strep that’s hit nearly the entire team. Only three players were on the ice for Wednesday’s practice. Overall health of the team will most likely be touch-and-go right up until puck drop on Friday.
With the series victory over the Eagles, the Mustangs sit in a very good position to at least grab the wildcard spot in the upcoming WSHL championship series, the Thorne Cup Finals. There are currently eight teams remaining in the WSHL playoffs. Six of them will advance to the finals: The four division champions, the host El Paso Rhinos and a wildcard team, which will be the team remaining from the division finalists with the most regular season points. Considering the Mustangs high point total this season, the only way the Mustangs would not grab that wildcard spot is if they lost to the Outliers and if the Idaho IceCats got upset by the Tahoe Icemen.