Utah hockey’s new era

OGDEN — Utah hockey took another big step last month as not one, but two Tier III junior hockey teams opened their first seasons in the Western States Hockey League — the Park City Jr. Moose and the Ogden Mustangs.

Tier III hockey coming to Utah gives players in the state a place to play close to home after high school (or even before they’re done with high school) to show off their skills and earn a scholarship at the NCAA Div II or III level.

While each roster is made up players from around the world — some as far away as Finland — there is a definite local flavor on each team. The Jr. Moose (who I’ll profile in more detail in a later post) have three Utahns — Skyler Metcalf, Austin Teel and Devin Holmes. The Mustangs now have five local players on their roster — Dax Hobbs, Zach Brannon, Landon Aylor, Kody Rodriguez and the recently added Shawn Bevegnu.

Hobbs, who hails from Syracuse, has been playing for Golden Spike said that playing for Ogden was a no-brainer. He can play at this high-level of hockey for two years (juniors can play until they’re 21) with the hope of playing four more years in college.

“They’re here to play hockey,” said Mustangs head coach Devin Firl, who has played and coached at Div. III Saint Mary’s University. “They want to reach their goal of playing hockey in college.”

Despite coming from hockey-crazy Minnesota, Firl said he’s excited to coach here.

“We’ve had great attendance,” he said. “(The Ice Sheet) is perfect for junior hockey.”

Hobbs, who leads the team in scoring, said the support has been great — even on the road in Boise. The team has been involved with the community, holding clinics and going to school assemblies. West Jordan’s Brannon says the players are eating and breathing hockey.

“Everyday, if we’re not doing hockey, we doing something as a team,” Brannon said.

And the that has seemed to help them come together despite returning just four players from last year’s team that was based in Bakersfield, Calif.

“We’re really close to being already a good team,” Firl said.

Despite just one win in their first eight games, five of those have come against teams at the top of the WSHL standings.

The Mustangs will get their chance to see if the hard work has paid off Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. when they host the defending champions Idaho Jr. Steelheads at the Ice Sheet. It’s Military Appreciation Night, so tickets are half price with military ID. Despite having already taken two loses to Idaho, that was with just 13 players available due to injuries.

“We played them tough (in Boise),” Hobbs said. “… We’re due for an upset.”

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