OGDEN -- It might be a little early, but recently named Weber State hockey coach Joe Pfleegor is excited about the club's upcoming season and his plan to get WSU back to Division I status.
"The goal is within the next 2-3 years to bring this club back up to D-I again,"Pfleegor said. "Believe me, I'll do it."
Weber State played at both the D-I and D-II levels through the 2006-07 season, before the teams were combined into a single D-II team.
Pfleegor is positive getting back to D-I status not only benefits the program and the university, but also a community that he recognizes as a developing hotbed for hockey in the state since the addition of a Junior A team (Ogden Mustangs) last winter.
A hockey coaching staple in Utah since 1994, the upcoming season will mark the second time Pfleegor's been at the helm of the WSU squad. He also coached at Roy High before taking an assistant coach position with the Mustangs in 2011. The Philadelphia native was named head coach after the Mustangs let Devin Firl go midway through the schedule and led Ogden to a 11-14 second-half record and a postseason appearance in the club's inaugural season.
Pfleegor's confident he'll have even greater success with a Weber State organization he's already worked with, and knows exactly how to get started.
"To build anything you're going to need a good, solid foundation," Pfleegor said. "And once that foundation is in place, now you can go out and recruit more and develop the current players you have to play at that level."
Pfleegor's foundation at WSU will include veterans like Josh Guidice and team captain Braxton Green.
"You look at these players and what they've been through the last four to five years," he said. "I'd really love to see them get to Nationals."
Green echoes that sentiment during a season that could be his last as he will graduate but still has a year of eligibility left.
"I personally have never been to nationals at any level of hockey in my life," he said. "It seems like an awesome experience and it's something I'd love to be a part of."
Recruiting efforts and strategic scheduling, Green says, are just the beginning of what he expects to be a breakout season for the club.
"We've got the same core group of guys but we're going to have a lot more depth this year," he said. "And we're playing all the teams that were in the top 10 last year which should really help us in the rankings."
Pfleegor and Green say a strong showing against those teams in the top 10 last year is crucial in achieving D-I status. That strong showing will heavily rely on recruiting and development in the offseason.
Over 40 kids were present at June tryouts, a turnout Pfleegor says was outstanding and "what made it even more impressive was the fact that there was also a lot of great talent there."
Another big difference from season's past is the number of games on the slate.
"Last year they had a total of 19 games and I think they only had eight home games," Pfleegor said. "This year I've already scheduled 45."
The tentative schedule includes 19 home games starting with a season opener at the The Ice Sheet against in-state rival BYU.
Also slated are three games with Junior level teams that will provide the team with another challenging aspect to an already grueling schedule.
As a club (or non-scholarship) team, WSU players are not eligible for scholarship and are responsible for their own tuition, housing, and living expenses. The team funds road trips and other expenses through fundraising efforts, tickets sales, and private donations.
As part of the team's efforts to raise awareness, a free clinic at the Weber County Ice Sheet for players 14-18 years old (Friday July 27th from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15p.m. and Saturday July 28th from 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.) coupled with a golf tournament slated for August 4 are just the beginning of a big push for community involvement.
A community, Pfleegor says, that benefits from having the Weber State team on the ice just as much as the players benefit from receiving a quality education and getting valuable playing time. Despite being a club sport, Pfleegor estimates student athletes bring in approximately $250,000 in tuition alone to the university each season.
Relying on a combination of showcases, phone calls, emails, Facebook, and word of mouth to continue building his recruitment pool, Pfleegor says the goal for this upcoming season is to get the current D-II team to regionals. After that, it's on to nationals.
Pfleegor's confident the objectives for the upcoming season and beyond will be achieved and say's once they get there, the effort will more than justify the outcome.
"It's a lot of hard work and it's a lot of commitment but when you get to the other end it's all worth it."