We’re three weeks into the 2019-20 Western States Hockey League season and one of the longest-running all-time series in the league is set to continue as the Ogden Mustangs and Utah Outliers begin their ninth season of matchups. It’ll be a home-and-home this weekend (Friday in Ogden and Saturday in West Valley) as both teams look to grab an early upper hand in the new-look Northwest Division.
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 weekend with a perfect record of 6-0-0. They started the season with a sweep over the Ontario Avalanche at home. Last weekend they swept the Steamboat Wranglers on the road with dominant 7-1. 17-2 and 14-1 victories. The Mustangs lead the WSHL in goals scored with 61, averaging more than 10 goals per game. Twelve different Mustangs are averaging a point per game or more. Expect the Mustangs to come into this weekend with lots of confidence from throughout the lineup. They’ve had contributions from a host of players and have a lot of depth to be able to rely on upfront.
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 playoffs 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.
Outliers this Season
The Outliers come into the weekend with a record of 1-2-0. What was expected to be their home-opening series last weekend against the Southern Oregon Spartans was cancelled. The only games they’ve played this season were two weeks ago on the road against the always-tough Northern Colorado Eagles. The Outliers got better results as the weekend went on against the Eagles, losing the first game 4-0, losing the second game 4-3 and winning the third game 5-1. Expect the Outliers to be fresh and well rested this weekend. They’re not quite as big up front as last season, but have a lot of size on defense. Expect to see lots of physicality there.
This is the fourth season of Utah Outliers hockey, but after rebranding and moving locations a couple of times, it’s the ninth of the Park City Moose/Salt Lake City Moose/Utah Outliers franchise. The Outliers are coming off of back-to-back highly-successful seasons. They had 33 wins last season and a franchise-best 39 wins two seasons ago, which included a trip to their first ever Thorne Cup Finals. The Outliers are still searching for their first division title but have come so extremely close to doing so. In both of the past two seasons, the Mustangs have defeated the Outliers for division titles. In the five total division-final matchups between the teams, four of them have gone to overtime. The Mustangs have won all four. The Outliers are coached by Paul Taylor, who’s in his fifth season with the team.
Now in the ninth season of matchups, Friday will be the 72nd all-time meeting between the Mustangs and this Park City Moose/Salt Lake City Moose/Utah Outliers franchise. The Mustangs lead the all-time series 49-17-5. The Mustangs went 10-1-1 last season against the Outliers. The Outliers only scored 13 total goals in those 12 games. In the most recent game played between the teams, the Mustangs won 3-2 on a double-overtime, division-championship-winning goal from Kerry Kruzel.
Players to Watch
For the Outliers, they’ll need some new guys to step up offensively, as their top seven scorers from last season, who combined for 400+ points, are not back this season. As they’ve done historically, they’ll attempt to rely on scoring by committee. Their top returning scorer is speedy Russian forward Alex Charin. Charin had 12 goals and 25 assists in 46 games played last season. Also returning up front is Miroslav Hradecky, who had 12 goals and 12 assists last season. Leading the way offensively in the Outliers’ first three games were a couple of new forwards: Ben Doherty, who had three goals, and Joshua Harrel who had three assists. The strength of this Outlier teams might be their defense corps, where they’re led by four big returners: Jakob Lelek, Austin Heinrich, Tristan Slot and Brad McCloskey. It’s a big group, as all six D-men stand 6-foot-2 or taller. New Latvian defenseman Helvis Rudzajs is 6-5/209. In goal, the Outliers return one of the league’s top goaltenders from last season in Oscar Wahlgren. Wahlgren had a 2.02 goals against average and .917 save percentage last season. He allowed 27 goals in 10 starts against the Mustangs last season.
For the Mustangs, they also lost a boatload of scoring from last season, but in the first six games of the season, this season’s team has proved capable in the goal-scoring department. Second-year forward Shane Gilbert leads the charge for the Mustangs and leads the entire WSHL in scoring with four goals and 15 assists this season. His linemate and new addition from Ukraine Gleb Krivoshapkin has been electric, racking up nine goals so far, many of highlight-reel variety. Bryson Bartell is the top returning scorer for the Mustangs, not in his fourth season with the team. He had a strong effort last weekend, getting going a bit more offensively, along with his linemate Zach Pires. Pires had a three-goal, three-assist game last weekend. On defense, the lone returning defenseman for the Mustangs Oliver Wieringa has been on fire and just keeps scoring goals. He has eight goals and five assists in six games. Johan Zöllner has three goals and 10 assists. Ramil Talipov has one goal and 10 assists. In goal, all three Mustang goaltenders have played two games a piece. It’s hard to say if a clearcut No. 1 has been established at this point. Titan Anderson has the best goals against average and save percentage. Mason Palmer has made the most saves. Needless to say, the Mustang goaltenders will face their toughest tasks this weekend against the Outliers. No opponent has amassed more than 23 shots in a single game against the Mustangs this season (Game 2 in Steamboat with Palmer in net for Ogden).
Team Stats/Statistics/Other Player Notes
Mustangs special teams statistics: Powerplay – 10/28 – 36% (2nd) Penalty kill – 25/27 – 93% (5th) The Mustangs are No. 1 in the WSHL with 5 shorthanded goals this seasonOutliers special teams statistics: Powerplay – 1/18 – 6% (18th) Penalty kill – 16/18 – 89% (7th)
Northwest Division Standings Ogden Mustangs – 18 points Seattle Totems – 6 points Bellingham Blazers – 6 points Utah Outliers – 3 points Southern Oregon Spartans – 0 points West Sound Admirals – 0 points
Overall WSHL Standings Ogden Mustangs – 18 points El Paso Rhinos – 17 points Pueblo Bulls – 13 points Northern Colorado Eagles – 12 points Las Vegas Thunderbirds – 12 points Hinton Timberwolves – 9 points Oklahoma City Blazers – 9 points Dallas Snipers – 9 points
This weekend’s Northwest Division matchups Outliers at/vs. Mustangs Totems at Hinton Timberwolves/Edson Aeros Blazers at Edson Aeros/Hinton Timberwolves Admirals at Spartans
What Jon’s Watching For
Ogden Offense vs. Outlier Defense – The strength of the Mustangs is their offense. The strength of the Outliers is their defense. This will be the key matchup to watch this weekend. Can the Mustangs’ potent offense and depth up front overpower the size and experience of the Outlier defense? Or can that Outlier defense, along with the experienced goaltending of Wahlgren, stymie the Mustangs’ offensive attack?
Outlier Scoring? – Even if the Outlier defense can keep the Mustang attack at bay, can they find a way to fill the nets themselves? They scored only 13 goals in 12 games against the Mustangs last season. Among the six Outlier returners, in their 55 combined games played against the Mustangs, they’ve amassed only five combined points.
Physicality/Intensity – The Outliers have six returning players from last season. The Mustangs have nine. Games between these teams have gotten intense in the past, to say the least. It’s a clean slate now in a new season, but how much of the history between these teams boils over into a new season of action?