Western States Hockey League

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

Western States Hockey League: Long Beach Bombers hitting the target early on

Western States Hockey League: Long Beach Bombers hitting the target early on

By Brian Lester 

After seven games, the Long Beach Bombers proved they have the potential to be one of the better teams in the Western States Hockey League this season.Western States Hockey League,USA Junior Hockey,WSHL

They played the Fresno Monsters tough in three-game series in early October, winning once, and went into the final weekend of the month with a four-game win streak and a 5-2 record.

“We are in a good spot, but it’s still early in the season,” said Long Beach head coach Chris White. “We have a good mix of veterans and young players, and we have played well, but we still have a lot of things we need to work on.”

The Bombers have several players who have risen to the occasion, including Patrik Johansson and Tomas Nemeth, each of whom scored seven goals and dished out eight assists in seven games.

John Beatty (three goals, six assists), Michael Sjolin (one goal, seven assists) and Carl Lyden (five goals, two assists) have also played key roles for the Bombers.

In goal, Dennis Tschudi went into the season as the No. 1 goalie and played well, allowing 14 goals and making 186 saves.

Bailey Ketola and Kent Nusbaum arrived right before the start of the season and have seen time between the pipes as well. Ketola played in three games and racked up 88 saves.

“Bailey has played great,” White said. “Dennis has done a great job, too. I think in time he will be one of the top goalies in the league.”

Injuries have prevented the Bombers from being at full strength. One of the other issues Long Beach has dealt with is on-ice discipline.

“We’ve had some frustration issues. Players have to realize you just have to play hard and not open your mouth,” White said. “We will continue to work at that and just go out and work hard and play hard every day.”


Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives: 

Ogden Mustangs deep in experience for 2013-14

Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year

Butte Cobras excited about building community relationships

Western States Hockey League: Ogden Mustangs deep in experience for 2013-14

Western States Hockey League: Ogden Mustangs deep in experience for 2013-14

By Brian Lester

The Ogden Mustangs nearly made it all the way to the finals of the Thorne Cup last season.

Duplicating that success won’t be easy in the always-rugged Western States Hockey League, but head coach Jake Laime is confident his team is up for the challenge.Ogden Mustangs,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Jake Laime,USA Junior Hockey

“Our identity will be the same as last year,” Laime said. “We are going to have a fast and highly-skilled team, but we can also play the rough and tumble style of hockey, too.”

Seven players are back and that experience will be invaluable as the Mustangs prepare for another run at the league championship.

“Those guys will help set the tone for us,” Laime said. “They helped us create a culture of winning last year and that will carry over to this year. We fell a little short of our goal, but the guys are ready to get out there and play hard. They are hungry for more success.”

The Mustangs won’t play any games in the preseason as they did a year ago, but Laime plans to use the time in camp to put this team in a position to be at its best come the start of the season.

“We have a lot of talent, including some very good players from overseas,” Laime said. “Our guys have high expectations and we want to be disciplined and compete hard, in practice and in games. We feel really good about our defense and that should be one of our biggest strengths.”

Laime believes his team has the potential to be a contender again this year. It’s just a matter of going out and proving it.

“Our depth is good and I’m very excited about this team,” Laime said. “On paper, I think we can be even better than we were last season. But it comes down to being able to mesh as a team and compete hard. If we do that, we’re going to be in good shape.”


Read past Western States Hockey League article in our archives: 

Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year

Butte Cobras excited about building community relationships

 El Paso Rhinos look back on double championship year

Cheyenne Stampede: Team coming together well as tryout camp, season approaches

Cheyenne Stampede: Team coming together well as tryout camp, season approaches

By Brian Lester

Eric Ballard said there are still voids to fill on the Cheyenne Stampede roster for the 2014-15 season, but the first-year head coach is confident he will find the right players to take those spots.

It’s just a matter of being patient.

“We have about 11 spots remaining, but right now it’s about waiting over the next 30-60 days to see what happens with the players trying out for [teams in] the USHL and NAHL,” said Ballard. “We are keeping conversations going with players we are interested in, and in the end, hopefully we’ll end up with at least two or three of those guys.”

The main tryout camp is Aug. 15-17 at the Cheyenne Ice and Event Center, and Ballard is looking forward to seeing how things play out at the camp. Ultimately, he wants the best players possible on his roster as he prepares for his first season as the head coach of the Stampede.

“We want to be able to bring the best guys in and fill those open spots with quality players,” Ballard said. “We’re doing a lot of work preparing for the camp and we’re looking forward to putting together a good hockey team.”

Ballard has been aggressive in his recruiting efforts since taking the job as the head coach and hasn’t had too much down time during the off-season.

“There isn’t really ever an off-season in hockey,” Ballard said. “I’ve probably spent more time on the road this year recruiting than I ever have in the past. I’ve been all over the country looking at players and I feel good about what we’ve been able to accomplish with our efforts.”

Ballard has high expectations for his team this season in the rugged and competitive Western States Hockey League and is eager to get things started.

“I can’t wait for camp to start. I am very excited about the season ahead,” Ballard said. “The goal is to get all 25 guys on the same page and on board with what we are trying to do as a team. I’m confident they will adjust and adapt to everything and we’ll be ready to play our best.”

While the Stampede are looking forward to the season ahead, one of its former players is headed to the next level.
Goalie Fredrik Radbjer has committed to Marian University, a NCAA Division 3 school in Wisconsin. Radbjer went 1-4-1 a year ago with a 3.22 goals against average before suffering an injury during the season.


Read past Cheyenne Stampede articles in our archives:

Ballard excited about new coaching opportunity

Eight nominated for Western States Hockey League all-star teams

Moving on up the standings after a big January