OGDEN — Ogden Mustangs coach Jake Laime blew his whistle and the team’s passing drill came to a screeching halt.
Though it might’ve looked pretty the way hockey players can cruise up and down the ice and expertly handle the puck, Laime wasn’t happy with the drill.
The Mustangs were missing too many passes, especially short passes and “easy” passes.
The challenge for the Mustangs this season hasn’t necessarily been the game in, game out grind. They come into this weekend’s playoff series with a 47-2-2 record, even after numerous key players from last season’s team departed.
“I’d be lying if I said I anticipated the success that we’re having. I knew that we’d be competitive, but 47-2-2 is pretty remarkable,” Laime said.
Ogden’s average margin of victory in its 47 wins is 5.53 goals. Of the Mustangs’ 51 games, just seven have been decided by one goal.
The challenge for the Mustangs: How do they respond when they’re truly on the ropes in a postseason game?
“I always try to stress that our practices need to be to game pace and exceed our expectations in practice. I think the biggest obstacle for us is we haven’t battled a ton of adversity and we need to be prepared for it. When it hits, we can’t fall apart,” Laime said.
Hunger and interest isn’t an issue for the players, despite a season in which Ogden has throttled most teams it’s matched up against.
They remember last year’s Thorne Cup Finals against the El Paso Rhinos in Texas, the 2-2 tie game that became a 3-2 El Paso win after a goal in the final minutes of the third period.
“Losing on a last-minute goal in their home stadium definitely hurt, hearing how loud it got, watching them celebrate across the ice was not good. We don’t want too have that happen again,” Rhett Rampinelli said.
Last year’s playoff ending hasn’t been brought up much. The players don’t like to talk about it, but Laime also didn’t bring it up out of design.
He wanted to put a lot less pressure on the team this year and, since the team’s average margin of victory is closer to 10 goals than it is to zero, it seems like it’s been a good move.
So, what gives Ogden a chance to raise the trophy this year?
For starters, the Thorne Cup (the Western States Hockey League championships) is in Ogden on the Mustangs’ home ice.
Then there’s the matter of the Mustangs being historically dominant. The 47 wins are the most in the team’s history for a single season.
“A lot of good players have been here, to set a record never set has been big for us,” Rampinelli said.
Over the summer, Rampinelli lost around 20-25 pounds, so he was in a lot better shape this year and was a lot faster on the ice.
In 51 games this season, Rampinelli scored 58 goals with 74 assists (132 points), just a cool average of 1.13 goals and 1.45 assists per game.
Six more players (Ammon Anderson, Lukas Vacin, Ian Currie, Kerry Bruzel, Bryson Bartell and Harry Gullver) have at least 20 goals and four more players have 10-plus.
The 18-year-old Anderson, from nearby Syracuse, is second on the team in points with 104. That came from 45 goals and 59 assists in his second year with the Mustangs.
“Last year, I was able to work myself up through the lineup as time went on and I got more comfortable. This year, being a returner and coming back, I think taking that role as a bigger part of the team was my motivation,” Anderson said.
Anderson had a lot more opportunities to play this season as opposed to last, though many spoke highly of his potential last year.
Wonder who else has a big opportunity? The Mustangs. They might not have a better one than this.
Mustangs playoff series
When: March 22-24
Where: Weber County Ice Sheet
Who: Ogden vs. Steamboat Springs Wranglers
Notes: The Mustangs just swept Steamboat Springs 10-2, 8-1 and 10-2 in their final regular-season series. Ogden has home ice throughout the entire playoffs. Should they win, they’ll host a division finals series from March 29-31. The WSHL Thorne Cup Finals, featuring the top six remaining WSHL teams, will be from April 9-13 in Ogden.