The View from the Rooster Jacket is a blog written by Ogden Mustangs Director of Broadcasting and Social Media, Jon McBride, where he shares some of the more detailed, behind-the-scenes and statistical analysis from within the Mustang organization. Catch Jon live during the game, calling all the action (usually in that yellow rooster jacket) on WSHLtv.
The recent loss to the Utah Outliers has left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of Mustang nation, especially considering it was the lone game for the Mustangs in a 26-day span.
But there are a lot of things to be excited about, Mustangs fans. As I’ve had some time to step back and think about this start a bit more, here are some things that have me really, really excited moving forward to the Dec. 2-4 series against Butte and beyond.
Best start in franchise history
Statistically, starting 18-0 was the best start to a season in six years of Ogden Mustangs hockey. No matter what the schedule looks like or who you’re matched up against, 18 straight wins to start a season is impressive and something to get very excited about. The numbers speak for themselves.
Best start in the WSHL this season
With El Paso losing their first game two weeks ago and OKC losing their first last weekend, the Mustangs’ 18-0 start was the best start by any team this season. The Rhinos got to 13-0 and the Blazers got to 14-0 before suffering their first losses. The defending league champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads got to 10-0.
Starting with two toughest/biggest road tests
When the schedule was first released, there were a few things that worried me a little. The Mustangs were slated to play their first three games of the season on the road in Casper, then a home-and-home with Utah, then on the road against the Eagles. Historically, Casper and Fort Collins have been the two toughest and most important road trips of the season. But the Mustangs coming away with sweeps against both of those teams didn’t only mean 12 really important points that can matter a ton late in the season, but it also gave them some needed confidence and momentum moving forward.
Finding ways to win
Certainly not all of the wins were pretty, getting to 18-0, but that’s OK. There were situations in a lot of those first 18 games where I would expect former Mustang teams to fall apart. But this season’s team has proven it can thrive under opposition. There’s a calmness and confidence that can fuel the ability to overcome opposition. We’ve seen that as the team has 4 comeback victories and 5 overtime victories already this season.
Player development the right way
I love that this organization has gotten to this point the right way. When a team invests as much into a program as the Mustang owners and coaches do, when anything less than a championship is gained, there is sometimes panic, abandonment of personnel, systems, etc. But the Mustangs have stuck with their systems and their personnel and have returned an important crop of players each season. This season, it’s pretty incredible to see that 8 of the Mustangs’ top 9 scorers are returners from last season. The Mustangs have done what they’ve done this season by developing players the right way and sticking to their program that’s got them to this point.
The right players in the right roles
Another huge asset this season player-wise has been having the right guys to fill the right roles. Not every player can or should be a top-line, skill guy (contrary to what some players in junior hockey believe … which can be problematic). Let’s just take a look at the Mustangs’ forwards. The team has had its top line in place from day one. Forbes, Greene and Axelsson have been dynamite. That’s obviously been big. Then you get to the second and third lines, where you’ve been able to shuffle around Shea, Spodniak, Iapalucci, Watson and Fleming. The Mustangs’ fourth line has got to be the best in the league, which has seen young up-and-comers like Gulliver and Bartell, along with speedster Durefors who adds a key scoring touch, and power forward Dorfman who has also been lighting the lamp. But it’s the one remaining forward who epitomizes a role player to me: Zeier. This guy has been great. From the first day in camp, he explained himself to me as an energy guy, someone who’ll work hard in the corners and in front of the net, not a guy who needs to be a big goal scorer. He’s filled that role really well, and does a lot of little things right that help the team win: forecheck, backcheck, penalty kill, etc. The bonus for the Mustangs is that Zeier has also already contributed five goals and eight assists this season.
Wakeup call now is better than a wakeup call in March
Obviously the loss last Wednesday was tough to swallow for a lot of reasons. A lot. But talking to Coach Laime after the game, he brought a really interesting perspective. He’s spoken a few times this season about not wanting his team to be rewarded for poor play. Honestly, that’s what has happened a number of times during that 18-game winning streak. There were a few games that the Mustangs simply didn’t deserve to win. They played down to their competition, and weren’t playing up to their own capabilities, and squeaked out victories. Laime said he’d rather his team have to lose a game like that because at least then in can be a wakeup call that the team needs to get better and that things need to change. Well, for better or for worse, the Mustangs got that wake up call in that 5-1 loss. You could see it in the faces of the players after the game — wakeup call indeed. Coach also pointed out that a wakeup call right now, midseason, is much better than a wakeup call in the playoffs in march, when it’s too little, too late.
This team has not yet hit its ceiling
The Mustangs went 18-0, winning a lot of tough games against tough teams, while still being capable of much, much more. Think about that for a second. The sky is the limit for this team. We have not seen its best stuff yet. Get excited, Mustang fans. I have a feeling there are very good things ahead.