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The Weber State University hockey team began its season Friday night against the Park City Pioneers at the Weber County Ice Sheet. The back-and-forth game eventually fell to the Pioneers, 8-6.
The Pioneers are a Senior Elite semi-professional hockey team made up of former professional, collegiate and amateur hockey players. They are the three-time defending Utah Senior Elite state champions and the reigning Mountain West Hockey League champions.
“The Park City team has won their league the last three years,” said WSU assistant coach Clay Hobbs. “There’s a lot of ex-pros on that team and guys that have played at a real high level. They are older and have a lot of experience. You could see as the game went on, they knew where our weaknesses were, and they capitalized on them. They know where to go. Hopefully, after this week, our guys will be in the right spot to make the plays that we are capable of doing.”
The Pioneers controlled the game early, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes. The Wildcats answered back with a goal of their own when Robby Knott took a pass on the left side with 8:40 in the period and sneaked it over the goal line.
WSU tied the score with little more than a minute left. Team captain Braxton Green was in position off of a stick save by the Pioneer goaltender, which fell right in his lap for the fourth goal of the game.
The Wildcats stayed on the offensive and took the lead with 38 seconds left in the period when Knott found the net again. WSU ended the period with a 3-2 lead. The Wildcats controlled the puck for the latter part of the quarter.
With three minutes gone in the second period, the Pioneers tied up the score, taking advantage of the power play that left the Wildcats one man down. The Pioneers again took advantage of a power play a few minutes later, taking the lead once again at 4-3.
The Pioneers scored a minute later as Dan Korrub sped past the Wildcat defense and floated the puck right over the goaltender’s glove. That brought the score to 5-3 in favor of the Pioneers.
With seven minutes left in the second period, WSU was down two men due to penalty but was able to hold off the Pioneer offense. Dax Hobbs intercepted a pass and sped down the ice uncontested, juking the goalie and putting the puck over his left pad, bringing the Wildcats within one.
“With five on three, you always want to play defense first,” Dax Hobbs said, “make sure you don’t give up a shorthanded goal. It’s always defense first. But if you see someone make a mistake, you make sure you capitalize on it. But it’s one of those things you got to be careful with, but once you see your opportunity, you’ve just got to go with it.”
The Wildcats scored two more goals in the final minutes of the period, one by Jake Webber and the other by Phil Jennrich. The score was 6-5 at the end of the second period.
“That actually, I thought, changed at that point the momentum of the game for us,” said Joe Pfleegor, WSU head coach. “We’re down by two, they score another goal in that two-man advantage, now it’s 6-3; we score that goal, now it’s 5-4. It just changed the momentum, and we went up 6-5.”
To start the third period, the Pioneers scored two goals within 30 seconds of each other. This put them up for good. The next 10 minutes went by without incident until the Pioneers scored again with nine minutes remaining, increasing their lead to 8-6. The Wildcats were held scoreless in the third period.
“They came out in that third period, and we didn’t,” Pfleegor said. “We came out in spurts, but you are not going to win a game playing hard for 30 or 40 minutes. You got to play hard for 60 minutes, period. And it’s got to be the whole team, not just certain people.”
Pfleegor said he hopes to use this game as a learning experience and a chance to make last-minute adjustments to be ready for the regular season next Friday.
“They’ve got some really good players,” he said. “That’s why we scheduled against them. They would be a good test for us, to play all our players and give us coaches an opportunity to look and see where we need to be with our roster.”