OGDEN — With the American Collegiate Hockey Association national tournament in their sights, the Weber State club hockey team burned through the first half of the season, boasting a 12-4-2 record; third best in the nation.
With the strong first-half performance the Wildcats are ranked ninth among Division II schools, a feat that coach Joe Pfleegor says is incredible.
“A year ago Weber wasn’t even ranked,” Pfleegor, who took over the team in the spring, said. “The great thing is that even with 17 freshman, we’re going places. The way the boys are going right now, it’s awesome.”
A hockey coaching staple in Utah since 1994, the 2012-13 season marks 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 Ogden Mustangs for the 2011-12 season. The Philadelphia native was named head coach after the Mustangs let Devin Firl go midway through the schedule and led Ogden to an 11-14 second-half record and a postseason appearance in the club’s inaugural season.
His goal with the Wildcats is to return the club to Division I status.
“Within the next 2-3 years, we hope to bring this club back up to D-I again,” Pfleegor said earlier in the season. “Believe me, I’ll do it.”
WSU leaders from the first half include captain Braxton Green, currently ranked 18th in the nation in goals (16) and 11th in points overall, tallying 33 over 18 games. Linemate Josh Giudice is on the verge of cracking the top 20 with 15 goals and 23 points.
But it’s Weber’s top scorer, freshman forward Dax Hobbs, who is currently leading the pack and ranked eigth in the nation with 35 points while coming in fourth with 22 goals on the season.
“He can finish, he can skate, he’s got speed and reads the ice really well,” Pfleegor said.
Before joining the team at WSU, Hobbs was a standout for the Mustangs last year, amassing 25 goals and a team-leading 46 points.
“Joe (Pfleegor) said he was going to go out and put a winning team together and I believed him,” Hobbs said about joining the Wildcats. “Plus I’ve also always wanted to play with Braxton and some of the other guys.”
Hobbs is joined by fellow Mustang forwards Ryan Valadez and Derek Friend in addition to defenseman Jesse Love, Coleman Ashworth and Landon Aylor.
In his rookie season, Hobbs says that while earlier wins over in-state rivals BYU and Utah were nice, the biggest victory thus far was last weekend against No. 2-Colorado State. He explained that prior to the win the online chatter about some of Weber State’s wins had painted the Wildcats as flukes.
“Beating Colorado State ... put everyone’s words back in their mouth,” he said.
Not only did WSU beast CSU, but also dominated a top-10 ranked Denver team during the same weekend, 9-1.
The Wildcats are also taking care of business on the other side of the ice with Billings, Mont., native Ian Franke between the pipes. Franke is third in the nation for wins while maintaining an impressive 0.91 save percentage over 804 minutes.
“He’s unreal,” Pfleegor said. “The job of a great goaltender is to keep a team in a position to win, especially when you go up against a good team. He does that every single game.”
Green says a strong showing against those teams in the top 10 from last year is crucial in WSU’s ultimate goal of achieving D-I status. That strong showing thus far he said, can be attributed to a solidified team mentality.
“There’s no separation on this team,” Green said. “The last few years it’s been the vets that hang out, and the rookies are kind of secluded. This year we have a great group of guys that started gelling right from the beginning on and off the ice.”
Green said that being considered underdogs has placed a chip on the shoulder of the WSU squad, something he feels has benefitted the Wildcats.
“A lot of teams are overlooking us right now because of our past record over the last few years,” he said. “We still have 26 games this year, but if we keep progressing I definitely think we have a chance to make it to nationals.”
Weber State is hosting the Beehive Showcase that opened with a late match against UNLV Thursday.
Pfleegor says tonight’s 7:30 p.m. game against fifth-ranked San Jose State will be another test for the Wildcats who are still trying to silence the critics.
“This is an opportunity to show that we are for real.”