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In a match that had no bearing on the Mountain West standings, the Weber State University hockey team lost to Utah State University on Saturday. The Wildcats suited up only 13 skaters for the game, and USU outshot them 51-23 in an 8-2 defeat.
“We just played the third and fourth lines and people that normally don’t dress,” said WSU head coach Joe Pfleegor. “We had eight of our top guys out. The game didn’t have any bearing on the rankings because those are over. We already finished first. It just gave us an opportunity to play guys that normally don’t get an opportunity to play.”
The Wildcats fell behind quickly as USU scored in the second minute of the game. Freshman Sam Lindquist found junior Stewart Hepburn open, and he slid the puck past WSU goalie Lucas Thatcher.
The Aggies controlled the puck early and often in the game, taking advantage of the inexperience of the Wildcat reserves. But the Wildcat defense held strong for the first 10 minutes of the first period.
“Putting people that don’t play all the time into a situation against a top team and expecting them to come out and not make mistakes is a very difficult thing to do,” said WSU junior Phill Jennrich. “When they are put out there, you really see that there are skills that you have to hone from being put into a situation that you aren’t put in very much.”
USU added another goal midway through the first period. Freshman Chris Videto found sophomore Gary Higgs, and he found the back of the net. The Aggies scored again with five minutes left in the first period on a power play. That gave them a 3-0 lead going into the first intermission.
“We came out slow in the first period,” Pfleegor said. “I think a lot of them had that mentality that the game didn’t mean anything. We had a talk with them after the first period.”
WSU found itself in some trouble midway through the second period. Two Wildcats were penalized for tripping, giving USU a two-man advantage.
The Aggies quickly capitalized. Hepburn shot the puck to senior Sean Erwin, and he got the puck past the goalie. That gave USU a 5-0 lead.
The Wildcats were still one man down when they finally got on the board with nine minutes left in the second half. Jennrich took a pass from senior Curtis Snowball and outraced the Aggie defense to get WSU on the scoreboard. The Wildcats took a 5-1 deficit into the second intermission.
“I thought our other guys played pretty well,” said Jennrich, who originally wasn’t scheduled to play. “We got the puck out, we moved it up. I would have liked to get a couple more chances, but their goalie made some nice saves. Overall, I think we played fine, but we needed a couple more people on the ice to step up.”
After killing a penalty early in the third period, the Aggies struck again, giving themselves a 6-1 lead.
Jennrich then found the net once again five minutes into the third period. On a power play, Thatcher found Jennrich streaking down the ice, and he got in front of the Aggie defense, burying the puck to pull the Wildcats to within four goals.
“Until the third period, it wasn’t that far of a game,” Jennrich said. “They weren’t ahead by that much. It was three goals, which you can come from in any game. I feel as the third period hit, fatigue hit. When (some guys) are not playing every game, you get worn out.”
USU added two more goals in the last four minutes of the period, leaving with an 8-2 win.
“They went out and held their own,” Pfleegor said. “Whenever you go up to Logan, it is always a tough place to play. I think the boys responded in spurts. It gave an opportunity to everyone else to get an opportunity and see a lot of ice and see how they would respond. We saw some good things.”
The Wildcats will take this week off before hosting a three-day Mountain West Conference tournament at the Ice Sheet. WSU will have a bye on Feb. 27 before facing the lowest-seeded team on Feb. 28. The winner of that game will play for the Mountain West Conference championship on March 1.