Western States Hockey League

Western States Hockey League: Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

Western States Hockey League: Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

By Brian Lester

The Casper Coyotes are in a great position in the Western States Hockey League standings.

Through 36 games, the Coyotes were 26-8-2, good enough for first place in the Mountain Division.

Coyotes head coach John Ambrefe said the success is attributed to the work the team put in during the off-season to put the roster together.

“We did a great job of recruiting,” Ambrefe said. “We were able to find great players and, while it can take time for a team to mesh, we were able to make strides right away and have had a lot of players step up.”

Casper has been sharp offensively, scoring 139 goals in its first 36 games.

Viktor Thim has paved the way, racking up 25 goals and dishing out 30 assists in 34 games. Kasper Elo has come up big as well, tallying 19 goals and 33 assists in 31 games.

Erik Stenbacka has been instrumental to the Coyotes’ success as well. He has come through with 20 goals and 29 assists in 36 games.

“At one point, we had three of the top five scorers in the league,” Ambrefe said. “We’ve done a good job of moving the puck and guys are stepping up and making plays.”

Casper’s goaltending situation is solid as well. Rikard Mutschin has played in 17 games and owned a goals against average of 2.03. Alexandre Lussier has played in 19 games and has fashioned a 2.68 GAA.

“Rikard is a very good goaltender. He’s very smooth and moves well from side to side,” Ambrefe said. “Alexandre has really stepped up too and has played very well.”

Ambrefe is looking forward to seeing the Coyotes continue to build momentum and be ready for a postseason run.

“We just have to continue to do what we have done and not let the pressure get to us,” Ambrefe said. “I want the players to have fun and be ready to compete every night.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Deep Long Beach Bombers squad moves up in division

Ogden Mustangs deep in experience for 2013-14

Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year

Colorado Evolution announce dates, times for junior prospect camps, summer skills sessions

Colorado Evolution announce dates, times for junior prospect camps, summer skills sessions

The Colorado Evolution, of the Western States Hockey League, have announced the dates and times of their Junior Prospects Camps. Online registration will be announced at a later date at coloradoevolution.com.

The camps will be open to players in birth years 1995 to 2000. The location for all of the camps is the Big Bear Ice Arena (8580 Lowry Boulevard, Denver). The fee is $350 per camp. Coaches are Evolution GM/Head Coach John Kopperud, and assistant coaches Daniel Davies and former NHL player Sergei Bautin.

Camp 1

June 12: 9-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-2 p.m.

June 13: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; 1:15-2:45 p.m.; 4:45-6:15 p.m.

June 14: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

 

Camp 2

July 10: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; 2:45-4:15 p.m.

July 11: 9-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-2 p.m.

July 12: 9-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-2 p.m.

 

Camp 3

July 31: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; 3:15-4:45 p.m.

Aug. 1: 9-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-2 p.m.

Aug. 2: 9-10:30 a.m.; 12:30-2 p.m.

 

Camp 4 

Aug. 21: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; 4:15-5:45 p.m.

Aug. 22: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; 4:15-5:45 p.m.

Aug. 23: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; 4:15-5:45 p.m.

 

SUMMER SKILLS SESSIONS

The Evolution will also offer 18 separate summer skills sessions. Registration at coloradoevolution.com will be available at a later date.

The skills sessions are also offered to players in birth years 1995 to 2000, and will all take place at Big Bear Ice Arena in Denver. Players can either attend all 18 sessions for $250, or pay $40 per drop-in session.

Coaches at the skills sessions will be Evolution GM/Head Coach John Kopperud, and assistants Daniel Davies and Sergei Bautin.

Summer Skills Sessions schedule:

June 9: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

June 11: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

June 16: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

June 18: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

June 23: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

June 25: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 7: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 9: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 14: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 16: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 21: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 23: 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

July 28: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

July 30: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 4: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 6: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 11: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

Aug. 13: 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

 

Western States Hockey League: Deep Long Beach Bombers squad moves up in division

Western States Hockey League: Deep Long Beach Bombers squad moves up in division

By Brian Lester

The Long Beach Bombers has been one of the better teams in the Western Division of the Western States Hockey League this season.

Through 29 games, the Bombers were 19-10, good enough for second place.

“We’re pretty pleased with how we have played so far,” said Bombers head coach Chris White. “We’ve beaten [first place] Fresno a couple of times, once at home and once on the road, and we know that if we play a full 60 minutes of hockey, we are capable of beating anyone.”

The good news for the Bombers as they went into the WSHL Showcase in Las Vegas was that they were finally back at full strength. But even if issues do arise again down the road, Long Beach has the depth to overcome the adversity.

“The big difference for us this year is that we have a lot more depth,” White said. “We have a lot of versatile players that we can put in at different spots, and over the course of a season where you have injuries or suspensions, that depth makes a difference.”

Goaltending has also been huge for the Bombers during the first half of the year. Dennis Tschudi has played in 21 games and is 13-8. He has a 2.19 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

“It has really been one of our biggest strengths,” White said. “Our goaltending has been even better than expected. Dennis has had some stellar performances.”

Long Beach expects to continue to improve as the season rolls on, and it hopes to be a contender in the playoffs. White said playing a defensive-type of game will be key to success.

“We know that if we want to make a playoff run, we’ll probably have to go through [division leader] Fresno at some point,” White said. “You aren’t going to win a 7-5 game against them. You have to limit them to three goals or less. We feel like we have the team that can play that type of game. If we continue to get better, we’ll be ready come playoff time to be at our best.”

 

Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Our December 2014 cover story, “An Old West Shootout”

Ogden Mustangs deep in experience for 2013-14

Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year

Cheyenne Stampede: Impressive showing put forth at Western States Shootout

Cheyenne Stampede: Impressive showing put forth at Western States Shootout

By Brian Lester 

The Cheyenne Stampede went through a difficult stretch at the beginning of the Western States Hockey League season, losing its first five games.

Even before the season began, first-year head coach Eric Ballard talked about how young his team was going to be and that there were going to be some growing pains along the way.

Still, even during the tough stretches early on, Ballard was confident it would all work out. He knew it was only a matter of time before Cheyenne began heading in the right direction.

The Stampede have certainly been building momentum lately and were 11-13-2 after going 3-1 at the Western States Shootout in Las Vegas.

“We knew it was going to take time to get going because we knew coming in that we had a young team,” Ballard said. “The thing that has made a difference is guys are buying into the system and they have experience. Players are doing what they are supposed to do and they understand their roles on the team.”

The Stampede have been paced by Branko Okatavec, who has tallied 16 goals and 18 assists in 24 games. Heath Lantz has come through with 15 goals and 18 assists while Cody Key has racked up eight goals and 20 assists, including eight points in his last five games.

Nolan Kinney has stepped up as well, scoring 10 goals and dishing out 13 assists.

Corey Foster has seen the majority of time in goal, playing in 15 games, and he had wins in his last four starts, including two at the very well-scouted showcase in Las Vegas.

Egor Riabchikov has given up 25 goals and tallied 224 saves in seven games.

“We are right where we need to be as a team right now,” Ballard said. “Those early games were tough, but the guys kept their noses to the grindstone and kept playing hard. It’s paying off now.”

The Stampede defeated San Diego, Ontario and Seattle consecutively, but ran out of steam in Game 4 of the Shootout in Las Vegas, falling to the Whitefish Wolverines.

“We went into the showcase playing well, and wanted to keep that momentum going,” Ballard said. “Once we get into January, we want to compete as hard as we can and continue to improve. If we play up to our potential, we have a chance to be one of the top teams in the league come playoff time.”

 

Read past Cheyenne Stampede articles in our archives: 

Team coming together well as tryout camp, season approaches

Ballard excited about new coaching opportunity

Eight nominated for Western States Hockey League all-star teams

Climbing the mountains: Ogden Mustangs building Thorne Cup contender in shadow of Wasatch Range

Climbing the mountains: Ogden Mustangs building Thorne Cup contender in shadow of Wasatch Range

Ogden Mustangs,Ice Sheet,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Jake Laime,USA Junior Hockey

The Ice Sheet in Ogden, Utah, gets ready for another action-packed Ogden Mustangs game. The Mustangs regularly play to crowds of 1,500. Photo by Christine Ferrario

Ogden Mustangs,Ice Sheet,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Jake Laime,USA Junior Hockey

 

 

 

 

Ogden Mustangs,Ice Sheet,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Jake Laime,USA Junior Hockey

 

 

 

 

By Joshua Boyd

Just 52 miles from downtown Ogden, Utah, everything came together for the United States of America.

Indeed, the Golden Spike site marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. is less than an hour from Ogden, where it’s all coming together for the Ogden Mustangs hockey club of the Western States Hockey League.

Jake Laime is the head coach of the Mustangs and has played a big part in lifting the Mustangs from a team that won 13 games in its inaugural year to a top five team in the league.

“This program has gone from the depths of the WSHL and has risen to become a sought after destination for anyone looking to matriculate their game and take it to the next level,” said Laime.

The Mustangs are also sought after as a must-see ticket in Ogden, where they regularly get about 1,500 fans and never worry about playing in a rink full of empty seats.

“We go above and beyond with player – and fan – amenities,” said Laime. “We are very tight in our community. The rink, The Ice Sheet, was built for the 2002 Winter Olympics [when it was used for curling events]. The owners go above and beyond in providing the team and its loyal fans with every amenity to enhance the experience. A jumbotron was recently installed, along with an inflatable ‘Mustangs’ tunnel to take the ice. We have also added a new state of the art locker room complete with a hot/cold tub.”

“It’s pretty amazing, looking out and seeing the view [of the Wasatch Range mountains] from the arena,” added veteran defenseman Charlie Reed. “It’s really a great place to play and it gets bumping. It’s a real honor to play there in front of the best fans in the league.”

The improvement in talent has also brought in college coaches to do some high-level recruiting themselves. Last year, the Mustangs sent five 1993-born players on to NCAA Division 3 schools.

“The year before that, we placed three. We currently have a handful of schools requesting information on certain players,” said Laime. “They are intrigued with our roster and would like to learn more. Nobody has officially committed thus far, but we expect all of our ‘94’s to be placed amongst the NCAA ranks.”

The year-over-year increase of Mustangs players going on to NCAA schools matches a greater pattern for the entire WSHL, which advanced more than 60 players from last year to the NCAA realm.

“It speaks loudly to what the WSHL is doing, adding professionalism and trying to set the standard,” said Laime. “Everyone thinks you have to be on the East Coast to play NCAA hockey, but we have a great product in the West.”

“I’ve talked to some schools, but we usually leave that more up to Coach [Laime]. He’s a good liaison between us and the schools,” said Reed. “I’d like to go out East, maybe in Boston, where there are a lot of top NCAA programs.”

Reed was born in Alaska and lived there until he was 11, when his family moved to Ohio.

He started the 2013-14 season with the Aldergrove Kodiaks in the Canadian Jr. B Pacific Junior Hockey League.

“Coach Laime found me and he was in need of a defenseman. I came out in mid-October [2013] and ever since then, I loved it there in Utah,” said Reed.

 

Eyes on the Thorne Cup

Ogden Mustangs,Ice Sheet,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Jake Laime,USA Junior Hockey

The Ogden Mustangs feature a pro-style locker room among other amenities. Photo by Christine Ferrario

The Mustangs have been climbing the mountain since Year 1, improving from 13 to 18 wins and making the playoffs in Year 2. In Year 3 (2013-14), they went 31-12-3 and played in the Thorne Cup semifinals.

The 2014-15 Mustangs have started out fairly well, going 10-8-1 through October. Laime believes the team can be so much better and should be standing at or near the top when the standings go final in March.

“This is the most talented roster I’ve built in six years of coaching. From top to bottom, we have a really high end skill set,” said Laime. “We’re going through some peaks and valleys and trying to find that consistency and trying to get everyone on the same page.”

There are a number of forwards racking up more than a point per game, including returning co-captain Schuyler Seyfert (of Madison, Wis.), Quebec native Corey Iapalucci and Swede Edvin Johansson.

Iapalucci scored 24 points through 19 games, while Johansson and Seyfert each had 23 points.

“Edvin came to us from Vasteras of the J20 SuperElit, which is Sweden’s equivalent to the USHL,” said Laime. “He has a tremendous skill set. He’s feisty, speedy and competes hard. I’ve had a lot of success with a lot of our Swedes. They’re fun to work with, they have great personalities and a great grasp on fundamentals.”

Ogden Mustangs,Ice Sheet,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Jake Laime,Charlie Reed,Christine Ferrario,USA Junior Hockey

Charlie Reed is a returning Ogden Mustangs standout for this season. Photo by Christine Ferrario

He points to forward Andreas Zollner, “a big-bodied power forward” with 13 points, and defenseman Jacob Engle (6-feet-7-inches, “very mobile for his size”) as other effective Swedish imports for the Mustangs.

“We also have a good group of returning guys like Reed, Seyfert, Jon Mencer [18 points in 19 games] and David Clements [16 points],” added Laime.

“I’d like to add some leadership to my game, and also I’d like to add that one extra year of playing and make some more veteran plays,” said Reed. “I just really want to bear down to the basics, and play a more simple, efficient game.”

Players like Reed, Mencer, Taylor Bowman and Craig Moore are all ’95’s who provide both maturity and promise for an even better next year. He expects most of them to return in 2015-16, if they don’t move on to college next year.

“With the ’95’s, I think that given the circumstances unless a player can go right into the NAHL or USHL and be a top player, it’s almost better for them to stay with us,” said Laime. “They’re comfortable in the community and the colleges know where they’re at. We know what we offer. We work with the players, find them homes and help to prolong their hockey
careers and meet their education expectations.”

Go one year or two years younger, and it can be a different situation for where a player could go from Ogden.

“A ’96 has a little more time to establish himself at the Tier 1 [USHL] and Tier 2 [NAHL] levels,” added Laime. “He has two more years to establish himself and have those schools be able to find him and follow his progress.”

The team fields five ’96’s, with Iapalucci leading that crew, and one ’97 (Ogden’s own Taylor Folk).

Laime and assistant coach Pete Flores, who played for and coached at Florida Gulf Coast University, know that traveling to Ogden and joining the Mustangs can open many doors for the future.

“I was the strength and conditioning coach and assistant coach with the Florida Jr. Blades and also the S&C coach for the pro Florida Everblades,” said Laime. “The Ogden ownership flew me out here, and I saw the potential growth for this facility and organization, and for me, professionally.”

So, at their “mountain home,” the Mustangs are all in from five different countries and six states united for one goal.

“We have one thing in mind, to win a championship,” said Reed. “It’s a winning atmosphere.”

“I know that we’ll peak at the right time, gel as a team, and be a tough team to beat come playoffs,” Laime added.

 

Cover photo: Ogden Mustangs defenseman George Babos. Photo by Christine Ferrario