Pfleegor getting most out of local Mustangs

Feb 22 2012 - 7:41pm

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(Photo courtesy of Ogden Mustangs) Ogden Mustangs leading scorer Dax Hobbs is a Syracuse resident who played his youth hockey at The Ice Sheet.
(Photo courtesy of Ogden Mustangs)
Ogden Mustangs player Kody Rodriguez celebrates a goal with teammates. Rodriguez, from Centerville, is one of five Utahns on the roster.
(Photo courtesy of Ogden Mustangs) Ogden Mustangs leading scorer Dax Hobbs is a Syracuse resident who played his youth hockey at The Ice Sheet.
(Photo courtesy of Ogden Mustangs)
Ogden Mustangs player Kody Rodriguez celebrates a goal with teammates. Rodriguez, from Centerville, is one of five Utahns on the roster.

OGDEN -- When Joe Pfleegor took the position as assistant coach for a junior hockey team that recruited players from all over the world, he was unsure what kind of talent would come from local players.

Now the head coach, Pfleegor has been pleasantly surprised with players being produced in Utah.

"It's good to see so much local talent here," Pfleegor said. "When I recruit players I don't look to see where they're from, I look to see what type of players they are and we're just fortunate enough that we have the talent here that they can play at that level."

Shawn Benvegnu, Zach Brannon, Kody Rodriguez, Landon Aylor and Dax Hobbs comprise the Utah contingent on a roster of over 20 players from the U.S., Canada, Finland, and the Czech Republic.

Pfleegor says that alone is impressive, but then to consider two of those guys, Hobbs of Syracuse and Rodriguez of Centerville, are leading the team in multiple categories, well that's simply amazing.

"While some of it is raw and underdeveloped, we do have good talent in this state," he said. "Hobbs and Rodriguez are our leading scorers and they've been a huge asset to this team. These are good players and they belong here."

Hobbs leads the Mustangs in goals (24), assists (20), and points (44) with Rodriguez directly behind him in each category except assists.

Growing up on the ice at Weber County's Ice Sheet makes playing for the Mustangs special, Hobbs says, and comes with a little more responsibility.

"I've been playing on this rink since I was four years old and this arena holds a lot of memories," Hobbs said. "There's a lot more pride that comes with both winning and losing for me as a local kid."

As far as fans go, Hobbs believes Ogden has some of the best in the league and says he's seen the hockey culture in the top of Utah start to change.

"It's a lot bigger than when I was growing up," he said. "And the fans have been great. Really loyal at every game cheering us on."

Playing the role of "enforcer" early on in the season, Rodriguez (24 goals, 38 points) has never been shy to drop the gloves leading the team with 139 penalty minutes (fourth highest in the league).

A stat that makes it even harder to believe he's only 17 years old and balancing his high school education with the rigors of 4-5 hours per day for practice and gym time combined with a five-month, 42-game schedule half of which is on the road to Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, Idaho and California.

"I'm taking online classes just because I don't have time to actually go to high school," he said. "It's tough because you're either on the road, at practice or in the gym."

Rodriguez agrees that being a hometown favorite comes with advantages and disadvantages.

"It's awesome playing at home in front of your family and friends and being a little bit of a crowd favorite," he said. "But then you're also spotlighted more so if you mess up it gets a little more noticed."

On the other side of the spectrum sits Aleksi Kiviranta.

The 18-year-old goalkeeper, who along with Lukas Moudry (Czech Republic) make up Ogden's two players hailing outside North America.

While Kiviranta misses Finland, he says there's no place he'd rather be.

"I do miss my family and friends," he said. "But right now I'm living my dream playing hockey in the United States."

Kiviranta says by far his start in front of the nearly 2,000 fans that packed The Ice Sheet last Friday was the highlight.

"I loved it. I think it makes me play better having a lot of people," he said. "I really think we have the best fans in the league."

Friday will be Ogden's last home game of an inaugural season that has seen its share of ups and downs and while the Mustangs will get a crack at the postseason on the road against the No. 1 seeded Idaho Junior Steelheads, you can bet each one of the guys on the ice -- local or not -- fully appreciate the opportunities they have to playing the sport they love in Ogden.

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