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  and ever since then, I loved it there in Utah,” said Reed.
Eyes on the Thorne Cup
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.”
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