Hockey. Is. Back. A new season of Ogden Mustangs hockey is upon us as another quest for the Thorne Cup begins. The Mustangs will take on an overall unfamiliar foe in the Western Division’s Ontario Avalanche Friday, Saturday and Sunday to open up their 2019-20 Western States Hockey League season. It’s a new chapter in Mustangs history, starting season No. 9.
Game Notes are compiled by Ogden Mustangs broadcasting and media specialist, Jon McBride. Catch Jon live during the games, calling the action via Black Dog Hockey.
Mustangs this Season
The Mustangs come into the season with a clean slate, putting another excruciating way to end a season behind them. The Mustangs have fallen by razor-thin margins in back-to-back WSHL Thorne Cup Championship games. The Mustangs have nine returners on this year’s roster, looking to avenge those losses, as well as a host of newcomers to the roster poised to make an impact. Head Coach Jake Laime expects his team to be more physical this season, playing a hard-nosed brand of hockey, to compliment the usual speed and skill the Mustangs play with. The Mustangs are without their five top scorers from last season who combined for 350+ points and will need to fill some gaps left offensively. The Mustangs have an all-time high five players from the state of Utah on their roster this season.
This is the ninth season of Mustangs hockey. Head coach Jake Laime is in his eighth season. The Mustangs won division championships in 2014, 2015, 2018 and last season in 2019. Total points earned and team winning percentage increased each of the first six seasons. For the past seven seasons, the Mustangs have been considered in the top tier of teams in the WSHL, with deep runs in the postseason each season, but are still looking for their first league title. The Mustangs have established themselves as the top producer of NCAA commitments in the WSHL. They had nine players commit from last season’s roster and have had 40+ overall, including Matus Spodniak’s NCAA DI commitment to American International College.
Avalanche this Season
The Avalanche come into the season in a new-look Western Division and have a new opportunity to compete for a division title. Gone are the perennial powerhouse Long Beach Bombers, who had won three consecutive Division Titles. Fresno, who has competed for that No. 2 spot the past few seasons, has a new coach and new look. Vegas has an expansion team in the division. It’s anyone’s guess as to how things will shake out in the West this season. But for the Avalanche, they have the luxury of having a remarkable 11 returners from last season’s team on their roster. That’s a lot of familiarity and chemistry to build off of, and something these other Western Division teams most likely won’t have much of. The Avalanche are almost completely home grown, with 17 of their players from the Ontario and Southern California area.
This is the eighth season of Ontario Avalanche hockey. They’re coming off of a 17-28-3-3 season, finishing second last in the Western Division. It was a disappointment considering they had back-to-back 33-win seasons in the two seasons previous. The Avalanche have finished second in their division twice, but have never grabbed the No. 1 spot. Their season has ended in the division semifinals in each of the past five seasons. This season, the Avalanche have moved their home games from their usual facility in Ontario to Anaheim Ice. The Avalanche are coached by Rob O’Rourke, who’s in his fourth season with the team.
Despite being in the WSHL for seven seasons together, the Mustangs and Avalanche have only played each other in one single previous matchup. They met in the Western States Shootout in Las Vegas during the 2016-17 season. The Avalanche won that game 2-1 in overtime. The Mustangs have losing all-time records against only four current WSHL teams. The Avalanche are one of them.
Players to Watch
For the Avalanche, their top returner is Nic Abernathy. He put up 35 points in 49 games last season and was the team’s fourth leading scorer overall, on a team that relied heavily on scoring by committee. Tanner Turcotte is another returner who’s expected to make an impact this season. He had 24 points last season. Two seasons ago he played for the Tahoe Icemen. Turcotte travelled to Ogden for a series that season. He notched two assists in three games. He’s the only Tahoe player who’s played at The Ice Sheet before. Liam Massie is a 6-foot-4-inch power forward who can put the puck in the net. He had 12 goals last season. Riley Cryan is a newcomer from the San Diego Sabres. Expect him to be in the middle of any rough stuff. He had 114 penalty minutes in 30 games last season and 128 penalty minutes the season before. On defense, Quinn Deshler leads the way. He’s a fourth-year member of the Avalanche and will break the franchise’s all-time games played record in 18 games. Goaltending is an interesting opportunity and question mark for Ontario, having five goalies currently on the roster and none experience-or-statistic-wise who clearly stand out as a No. 1 guy. Mason Kaprelyan is one of the five goaltenders. He played in two games last season for Long Beach, behind now-Ogden goaltender Matthew Genter.For the Mustangs, it’s a pair of fourth-year guys up front who are expected to carry the load offensively: Bryson Bartell and Harry Gulliver. Gulliver will start the season watching from the stands, rehabbing an injury. Bartell appears to be poised to step up. He was sixth in scoring last season with 68 points in 57 games. He’s increased his output exponentially each season he’s been in Ogden and expects this season to be no different. The Mustangs are extremely deep up front. Shane Gilbert developed into a solid second-line center last season and is back. The entire energy line of Aidan McAleer, Alex Enganand Ethan McKinley is back. Youngster Diego Contreras is back, and is two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier. Homegrown Ogden native Cannon Rogers is back, after developing a lot during his first season with the team. Then there’s the new guys. Watch out for Gleb Krivoshapkin who will really be able to open things up with some blazing speed on Ogden’s Olympic ice surface. He’s got incredible hands and a nose for goalscoring as well. Caleb Dolman comes in with a lot experience, composure and physicality. Zach Pires is a smaller, shifty player with great playmaking ability. Coach Laime has a ton of options to work with at forward. We’ll see how he puts it all together. On defense, Oliver Wieringa is the lone returner. The 6-foot-5-inch, 230-pound defender still has a lot of upside and will look to build off a solid first season. Johan Zöllner is a newcomer whose last name is familiar to Mustang fans, as both of his older brothers starred for the Mustangs in previous seasons. He’ll be relied on heavily on the back end. Ramil Talipov was just added to the team last week. He was the top defender for the Edson Aeros last season and one of the top defensemen in the Thorne Cup Finals. In goal, the Mustangs have two guys who are expected to be potential No. 1s: Matthew Genter, who played for Long Beach last season, and Mason Palmer, who comes from the TPH Thunder program and was a final USHL cut this summer.
Team Stats/Statistics/Other Player Notes
Mustangs special teams statistics last season: Powerplay – 24% (5th) Penalty kill – 89% (2nd) – The Mustangs were No. 2 in the WSHL with 19 shorthanded goalsAvalanche special teams statistics last season: Powerplay – 20% (9th) Penalty kill – 79% (12th)The Mustangs have won their last six consecutive home openers
This weekend’s Northwest Division matchups Avalanche at Mustangs Outliers at Eagles Blazers at Admirals
What Jon’s Watching For This Weekend
Line Combinations – Looking at the Mustangs on paper, as I’ve been doing all summer, I’m intrigued by who could play with who, who could fill what role, whose skills might be complementary to another’s. I’m always fascinated by how Coach Laime can get the best out of his guys and how putting them in the right combinations can make all the difference. I can’t wait to see what the lines are this weekend.
Guy’s Stepping Up – All nine Mustang returners want and expect an elevated role this season. Many said so right in the announcements of their individual returns on this website. The question now isn’t just who wants it, but who’s earned it. With the new guys, coming from different leagues, and with some coming to the North American style of play for the first time, it’s hard to know what you’re going to get exactly. It’ll be fascinating to see what we see from the new additions this weekend. It’s been a long offseason of hard work for all of these guys, we’ll see who steps up and fills roles. Who are the starters? Who’s on the powerplay/penalty kill? Who gets the nod in key moments of the games when the pressure is on? Every role on this team is essential, from powerplay one guys to fourth line energy guys, but it’s always interesting to see who the guys are who can elevate their game and take their game to a new level.
Atmosphere – The Ice Sheet is expected to be rocking. It will be the first time for a lot of players on both sides of the ice playing in front of a crowd this big and this loud. Can the Mustangs leverage the home-ice advantage? Can the crowd be an important seventh man?