By Brendan Price, Grace Mello and Joshua Boyd / USPHL.com
We’ll start here in the future NCDC West, as some very strong USPHL Premier franchises prepare for their 2023-24 Tier II future with one eye, while also looking for a successful regular season and potential Nationals berth. Here we look at what’s been and what will be for the top Mountain teams.
Records Are For 2022-23 Regular Season So Far
Northern Colorado Eagles (5-3-0-0)
The Northern Colorado Eagles earned a series split with their rivals, rebounding with a 3-1 win on Sunday after a 6-4 loss to Pueblo the day prior, and retained their first place spot. Forward Eric Horein had four points in two games (3-1-4) and has already set career highs in goals (five), assists (six) and points (11) through eight games. He is part of a quartet of second-year players that lead the Eagles in scoring (Brink, Horein, Prince, and Bedard).
The Road Ahead: The Provo Predators and Eagles meet in a two-game set at the Ice Haus this weekend; the Predators are the only team the Eagles have yet to face.
- Each team will have their sights set on containing a player who has terrorized them in past meetings. Predator forward Yuri Ushakov has eight points (4-4-8) in six career games vs. NoCo and Eagle defenseman Xavier Fortin has 10 points (4-6-10) in ten career games vs. Provo. Ushakov continues to be an offensive force with three goals in his first four games of the year.
Utah Outliers (4-0-0-1)
The Outliers bounced back from a tough shootout loss to Ogden by handily defeating Idaho Falls and Provo to a 14-1 goal difference in two games. Rookie sensation Lucas Ouellette paces the Outliers with 10 points (5-5-10) through five games and center Kael Delzer has added eight points (2-6-8) as well. Two Outliers have scored a point in all five games – the veteran duo of Miles McCue (3-6-9) and Will Cohen (2-5-7). If the pair continue at this pace, they could land in the franchise’s top five all-time in scoring by the time the season ends.
The Road Ahead: Utah will see the Spud Kings again and get a rematch from last year’s division semifinal when Pueblo comes to town.
- When Utah blanked Idaho Falls last Friday, it was the third time in five games that Utah has limited their opponents to one goal or fewer.
- Goaltender Ben DiFiore is doing everything he can to give the Idaho Falls offense a chance to get started while facing an average of 61 shots per game.
- The Bulls, who visit Accord Ice Arena Saturday, had the most wins of any Mountain Division foe against Utah a year ago before being swept in the Mountain Division semifinals by the Outliers last March. Bulls winger Thomas Soucy just played in his 50th game with Pueblo, just the 15th skater to ever do so in a Bulls USPHL sweater.
- With the Outliers playing just twice, defenseman Matt Koepke will have at least one more weekend to join the “Century Club” in Utah. The third-year defenseman has 50 points (22-28-50) in 97 career games with the Outliers and could be the 10th player to reach 100 games played with the club.
Pueblo Bulls (4-1-0-0)
The Bulls stretched their winning streak to four games, defeating NoCo 6-4, before falling 3-1 in the Sunday tilt. Both Thomas Soucy and Axel Claesson were held in check, but linemates Scott Bugarin and Elhan Egdahmi filled the scoring void. Bugarin now has seven points (3-4-7) in five games after scoring in back-to-back games. The Bulls take the trip over the mountains for two showdowns in Ogden and a meeting with the Outliers this weekend.
The Road Ahead: The Bulls better get their rest. Friday brings Ogden, Saturday is Utah and Sunday afternoon is back against Ogden.
- The Mustangs were 7-3-1-0 against the Bulls last season, so Pueblo’s hoping to take the season series this year.
- Each squad is backed by some outstanding goaltending; Bulls netminder Alex Timmons is 1-1 with a sparkling 1.53 GAA and .955 save percentage in his first two starts; ‘Stangs netminder Owen Yancey is 2-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA, .956 save percentage, and a shutout on the young season.
Ogden Mustangs (4-1-0-0)
The ‘Stangs were the only team to go undefeated this weekend, sweeping three road games over three different opponents, defeating Provo 6-0, Utah 4-3 in a shootout and Rock Springs 9-2. Newcomers Jackson Ferry and Teddie Hember have been as good as advertised already; Ferry has six points (3-3-6) and Hember has five (2-3-5) through the team’s first five games. Forward Jake Meure moved into the top-10 in franchise history in scoring (134 pts in 101 games), thanks to a six-point weekend. He could leapfrog another two spots with four points over the weekend.
The Road Ahead: Ogden will put their three-game winning streak to the test against Pueblo and Idaho Falls next weekend. See above for the breakdown of the Ogden vs. Pueblo series.
Bring on the fourth week of play, after Week 3 finished up with the Ontario Jr. Reign remaining undefeated, and both the San Diego Sabers and Long Beach Shredders wrapping up 2-1 weekends.
Ontario Jr. Reign (7-0)
The Jr. Reign had a short weekend in Bakersfield, going 2-for-2 with scores of 7-3 and 6-4. Ontario’s Ethan McKibbin (‘02/Chestermere, Alb.) continues to impress as he comes away from the weekend +3, with two goals and two assists. McKibbin is now at 19 points in seven games played and is tied for third in the USPHL Premier in scoring and second in goals at 13. His teammate Jacob Pelletier (‘04/Beloeil, Que.) also had a big weekend finishing +4 with two goals and three assists. Pelletier is currently tied at sixth in the USPHL Premier with 16 points in seven games.
The Road Ahead: Ontario will host a Friday-Saturday-Sunday trio against the Fresno Monsters. Last year, Fresno held a 7-1-1-0 record against Ontario. Ontario won in their second-to-last meeting last year, a 7-6 overtime victory. This weekend’s series will see the only Pacific Division action.
- Ontario has scored the first goal in six of their seven games, and have never trailed or been tied at the end of any period. Fresno is undefeated when leading after one or two periods. The Monsters have run into trouble when tied after one (1-2-0-0).
San Diego Sabers (7-2-0-0)
The Sabers are currently tied with Ontario with 14 points after going 2-for-3 this weekend over Fresno with winning scores of 3-2 and 4-3. Leading the Sabers are newcomer Mario Paganini (‘03/Harrison, NY) and Michal Novak (’03), each with nine points. Novak picked up two goals and three assists over the weekend and Paganini grabbed two goals and an assist. Goalie Ethan Blackburn continues to do big things for the Sabers as he finishes two for two over the Monsters with 77 saves on 82 shots.
The Road Ahead: San Diego is off from game action until Oct. 29-31 when they play host to the Lake Tahoe Lakers.
Fresno Monsters (4-2-0-0)
The Monsters ended the weekend strong with a 6-2 win over San Diego. Christopher Miraldo (‘02/Montreal, Que.) picked up five assists bringing him up to 12 points in six games. The Monsters line up to face the Ontario Jr. Reign this weekend.
- Jacob Gagnon has put up six assists and 10 points in his first six games to rank ninth among defnesemen league-wide.
- After this weekend against Ontario, they will visit the Bakersfield Roughnecks Oct. 28-30.
Long Beach Shredders (3-6-2-0)
The Shredders had a positive 2-1-0-0 record on the weekend with a decisive shutout victory and also a 5-2 win over the Lake Tahoe Lakers. The Lakers won Game 1 of the series, 4-3, in overtime. Nikko Escobar (‘02/Ventura, Cal.) scored the #GWG in OT which also happened to be his first goal in the USPHL. Yuri Stalev (‘02/Moskva, RUS.) put up five goals for the shredders last weekend, bringing his point total up to 16, which puts him in a tie for sixth place in the USPHL Premier. Shredder goalie Jacob Baxter earned a #ShutoutShoutout for his 21-save performance in their Game 2 win.
The Road Ahead: Both Lake Tahoe and Long Beach are off from game action this weekend and will return Oct. 20-22 for Long Beach in Las Vegas, and Lake Tahoe will host Fresno Oct. 21-23.
- Lake Tahoe’s Chase Sechrist (‘02/ Santa Rosa, Cal.) leads the Lakers in points with 15. This also puts him tied for seventh in the USPHL Premier.
Up in the newest corner of the league, the teams have steadily gotten to know each other, with all teams having played at least four games thus far. Seattle remains at the top, undefeated through seven, and the Vernal Oilers are also batting 1.000 after four games at 4-0.
Seattle Totems (7-0-0-0)
The Totems continue to enjoy their new USPHL existence, traveling around the northwest, winning games, staying undefeated. It’s a good feeling – one they’ll really have to work to keep going against another team feeling good, winning games, traveling the northwest, staying undefeated. They are the Vernal Oilers, and they are 4-0. More on that in a moment.
First, where the Totems have been, what they have done. They won their third and fourth meetings with their Washington rivals the Bellingham Blazers, first in a 7-0 shutout in Bellingham and then in a 7-4 victory in Seattle.
Their 7-0 record is extremely good, great in fact for a first-year team, but they still need to win six more to match the WBS Knights’ 13-0 run from their first season of 2021-22. Their 14 goals was their most in a weekend against a common opponent so far. Felix Flodman stopped all 18 shots from Bellingham, while Derek Eaton continued his big scoring streak to five games (3-4-7). Nahom Gashaw Teshome is running a 6-3-9 run over his last four games.
- Vernal will be the hosting team for three games Friday to Sunday. It’ll be one of two Friday night games featuring completely undefeated teams (MJDP vs. Fort Wayne).
Vernal Oilers (4-0-0-0)
Vernal played in a three-set of games against the Rogue Valley Royals, with the middle being quite the close 5-4 battle in the still undefeated Oilers’ favor. The other two games weren’t nearly as close, with the Oilers hitting the double digits in both games. It was certainly a dominating weekend that sets this coming weekend up perfectly as they face the 7-0 Seattle Totems.
• Vernal is averaging a league-leading 10.00 goals per game after their first four games, and also No. 1 in shots per game at 61
• Antonio Tarantino is enjoying a 3-0 run with a 0.85 goals against average and a .985 save percentage. So along with the above offensive fireworks, they’re solid in net as well.
• Alex Bartakovics is on a four-game scoring streak of posting 7-9-16 and Filip Molnar is second at 4-8-12 in three games played. Each of the team’s top four scorers – also including Marco Casinelli and Kyle Russell – have points in each of their games played, which are four for all but Molnar.
Rock Springs Prospectors (4-2-1-0)
Currently standing at second place in points, with nine, the Prospectors came off a 2-1 weekend to open their home Family Recreation Center Ice Arena between Sept. 30-Oct. 2 to bring in the Ogden Mustangs on Saturday. That one did not work out very well for the Prospectors, who are still seeking their first non-division victory. Jorie Boyd and John Tsatzalis each had a goal and an assist, and it was both their second multi-point effort in a row. Boyd now has 2-3-5 in his last two games and Tsatzalis is on a 2-2-4 streak.
The Road Ahead: Those streaks remain alive at least for another week, as the Prospectors are off from game action this weekend and will get back under a running clock on Oct. 21 against Vernal, again at home.
Bellingham Blazers vs. Rogue Valley Royals
The two teams still seeking their first win will figure out which team gets that big first “W” with a pair of games up in Bellingham on Friday and Saturday. The two squads also get back together on Oct. 23 in a single game for that weekend.
- Blazers leading scorer Kieran Maloney only just missed scoring in a game on Oct. 7. Otherwise, he added three assists to an earlier 7-3-10 in his first seven games.
- In a Rogue Valley jersey, Dawson Nelson has not missed the scoresheet, putting up four goals and three assists for seven points thus far.