With the Ogden Mustangs picking up a 2-0 shutout victory last Saturday on the road against the Utah Outliers, season No. 8 of Mustangs hockey is underway and off to a solid start.
Far in the rearview now is last season’s heartbreak, falling by a single goal in Western States Hockey League championship game in El Paso, Texas. It was the end of a remarkable run and remarkable stretch of runs over the team’s first seven seasons in the league.
Each season in the franchise’s history has been a step forward, from just 13 wins in the team’s inaugural season, to 18 in season two, to a remarkable division championship in season three, to now three Thorne Cup Finals appearances, 38+ wins in each of their past four seasons, one game away from the championship game two seasons ago on home ice and then one goal short of a championship victory last season. It’s been a wild ride, and once again, this season’s focus is on taking home the league’s ultimate prize.
“After last season, I don’t want to settle for anything less than the Thorne Cup,” said Mustangs forward and second-year player Ian Currie. “We came so close, and it got taken from us. This is our year.”
The WSHL has already announced that the Thorne Cup Finals will be hosted in Ogden this season, but that’s a long way away. While the team has a long season ahead of itself, it’s been put together methodically by head coach Jake Laime.
“I’m happy with the character, work ethic and the attitudes of the guys that are coming back this year,” Laime said. “We don’t have a 150-point guy, but I think that we are going to be a blue-collar team with good work ethic and character.”
Although a small sample size, that work ethic and character was evident in the Mustangs’ season-opening victory against the Outliers. While it was two returners scoring the goals in 17-year old Syracuse, Utah native Ammon Anderson and top returning scorer from last season Rhett Rampinelli, other contributions came from throughout the lineup.
Ryan Mascali will anchor the defense corps as a third-year player. Harry Gulliver is the Mustangs’ other third-year guy and will be a key contributor up front, growing an inch and putting on 10 pounds in the offseason. Kerry Kruzel is another guy back for another season who will make a big impact. He had the primary assist on Anderson’s game-winning goal last Saturday, and was the third member of the Mustangs No. 1 line along with Rampinelli and Anderson.
Outside of the six returners, there are a host of new guys ready to make an impact. Perhaps no newcomer stood out so much on Saturday as Ukrainian goaltender Artur Ogandzhanyan, who picked up the shutout in his first ever game as a Mustang. He’s the first goalie in team history to do that. Canadian defenseman Oliver Wieringa is an imposing force on the ice at 6 feet 5 inches and 230 pounds. He had some big hits Saturday. Nikita Boyko is a relentless, tenacious defender from Kazakhstan who with sheer effort started the play from his own defensive zone that got the Mustangs their second goal Saturday. Ethan McKinley, Aidan McAleer, Shane Gilbert and Ogden native Cannon Rogers all bring a lot of speed and depth up front.
The roster is far from finalized at this point. As we’ve seen each season, Laime is able to find key pieces as the season goes along with trades and adding players from other leagues. One such player joined the team this week from the South Shore Kings of the NCDC: Lukas Vacín. More players could be on their way soon.
Each player, not matter when they arrive or their exact role, will be relied upon heavily this season. With the departure of Mustang all-time leading scorer, and last season’s team-leading scorer Matus Spodniak — playing NCAA DI hockey this season — along with the departure of last season’s No. 2 and No. 3 scorers in Jacob Lauren and Ross Bartlett, respectively, the Mustangs have lost a staggering 400 points of offensive production from last season. Still, the Mustang players say they’re ready to step up and replace those points by committee.
“The team is looking good,” Gulliver said. “We have younger team than last year, but they are all talented and hungry to play.”
The Mustangs open up their home schedule this weekend as the Casper Bobcats come to town for three games. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.