OGDEN — It may be hard to believe, but once again its hockey time in Junction City.
Forget football, the Ogden Mustangs Junior A hockey quad will open their second season at The Ice Sheet tonight, hosting the Valencia Flyers with the puck scheduled to drop at 7:30 p.m.
Sporting 19 new faces on the roster along with new head coach Jake Laime, the Mustangs are primed to make another run at the postseason and a Western States Hockey League title.
They’ll have 42 grueling regular season matchups to get through first.
"This year will be a little unique with the addition of Seattle (Jr. Totems) and Southern Oregon (Spartans)," Laime said. "Both of those teams have had very successful histories and the addition of them to our conference speaks volumes of what the league has done and the caliber of athletes that we’re working with."
Ogden comes off a turbulent inaugural season that saw a strong finish following a less-than-stellar first half (3-17-1 ) after which the team released coach Devin Firl and promoted assistant coach Joe Pfleegor.
A surprising performance in Las Vegas during the WSHL Shootout in early December jumpstarted the Mustangs who then won five straight in late January securing a postseason appearance and a 10-12-2 record under Pfleegor.
After a successful stint with the Mustangs, Pfleegor accepted a position as volunteer head coach of the Weber State University club hockey team.
Laime comes to Ogden under a two year contract from the Florida Junior Everblades in the Empire Junior Hockey League where, as an associate head coach and assistant general manager, he compiled a 78-14-13-1 record, including back-to-back national championship berths.
Prior to coaching, Laime spent two years playing professionally in the United Hockey League with three teams (Muskegon Fury, Flint Generals and Port Huron Flags). He also spent time in the Southern Professional Hockey League working with the Jacksonville Barracudas and PeeDee Cyclones.
While he’s excited to be coaching in Utah, Laime knows, and is prepared to meet, the obstacles of coaching hockey at such a pivotal level.
"My biggest challenge is just having the guys buy-in, getting them all on the same page, and having them all work towards one common goal," he said. "What really speaks volumes is the team that forms a brotherhood, comes together and really gels through the longevity of a season."
This year’s team welcomes back just four starters from last season: Erik Fischer, Alex Pizzaro, Zach Brannon and Kody Rodriguez.
A local boy and crowd favorite, Rodriguez had no qualms about dropping gloves last year (150 penalty minutes) but balanced his aggressiveness as an offensive threat as well (26 goals, 41 points).
Brannon is the only other Utah native on this year’s team. The 20-year-old logged seven goals, four assists and 11 points from his forward position through 41 games last year.
The rest of the squad comes from cities around the globe including a trio of players from the United Kingdom.
Laime says the massive recruiting effort during the offseason resulted in a speedy team that should have no problem finding the net.
"We’ve been able to reel in some pretty big fish," Laime said. "We don’t necessarily have one superstar, but I think we have six or seven guys that can really carry the weight and do really well."