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The Weber State University hockey team wrapped up another successful season Sunday, winning its final game at the American Collegiate Hockey Association National Tournament. The Wildcats did not advance to the semifinals, but said they were pleased overall with the success they had after a rough start to the season.
“There were a lot of positives from the weekend,” said WSU head coach Joe Pfleegor. “In the end, everybody’s goal was to win a national championship. It didn’t happen this year, and we are going to start focusing on next year.”
The year started out with a bitter rivalry game between the Wildcats and Utah State University. The Wildcats won the game in an overtime thriller that saw WSU tie the game in the final seconds before winning in the first few seconds of overtime.
Then hard times began to beset the Wildcats. They lost several players to injury for multiple games. After winning their first game, they won just one more game in eight tries. The team was struggling to establish chemistry with their new, temporary line mates. But that was just a minor setback.
“Everyone stepped up,” said WSU senior Braxton Green. “We had rookies come in and play like veterans. We had a lot of injuries, but they never slowed us down. We were able to battle through the whole time. There was a lot of growth, and everyone showed a lot of heart throughout the year.”
Things began to turn around for the Wildcats in October. They rattled off five straight wins, including a win over the then-undefeated University of Utah. After two more losses, the Wildcats hit their stride, even when their team was decimated by injuries.
“We set some goals,” Green said. “We accomplished some, and the others will still have to be set again for next year. We stuck together. We had some injuries and some guys that weren’t able to play, but we battled through.”
The Wildcats were winners of 13 straight games, including their first win over USU in Logan in several years. The Wildcats clinched the No. 1 ranking in the Western Region with their strong showing.
“Us getting that No. 1 spot in the West was big,” Green said. “It says a lot about our team and how good we are.”
The Wildcats went on to win the Mountain West Hockey League Championship in its debut. They rode momentum into the national tournament, but fell short after losing their first two games in bracket play.
“We came here and we were confident,” said Green after nationals. “Unfortunately, we lost that first game, and that kind of takes a lot of wind out of your sails. It’s tough to bounce back from that when you are here.”
The game was the final one for Green and the rest of the WSU seniors. Pfleegor said the seniors will be hard to replace.
“You are talking about losing Braxton Green, Josh Giudice, Robby Knott — those are key players. When you have core players like that, it gives you motivation as a coach to go and build around them. It’s going to be more of a challenge this year because of the guys we are losing.”
But Pfleegor said he is confident in the recruiting he has done the last two seasons since taking over the team once again. He said the team has some nice building blocks to continue its success.
“Basically, you look at your core players, the players that build your foundation,” Pfleegor said, “players like Jake Webber, Dax Hobbs. That’s a pretty strong foundation.”
Having key young contributors in place gives the Wildcats confidence going into the offseason and the recruiting process.
“It would be a little bit different if you didn’t have a Hobbs or a Webber to build around,” Pfleegor said. “But knowing you have players like those, it makes it easier to find other guys to build around.”