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Peoria Mustangs: Young players pick up games for playoff-bound squad

By Brian Lester, 02/10/18, 12:00AM EST


January was an up and down month for Peoria, with the Mustangs going just 5-4-1 in their last 10 outings of that month. Head coach Steve Ortman believes the team is much better off than it was a month ago.

PEORIA, IL -- He was right on. Since coming out of January with a 17-16-1-1 record, the team has gone 3-1 to improve to 20-17-1-1. The Mustangs are in second place in the NA3HL Midwest Division.

“Overall, I think we are playing a lot better,” Ortman said. “We’re playing a lot of out of division teams and that is going to help us get ready for the playoffs.”

Nashville and Cincinnati both folded, leaving the Mustangs to play a lot of out of division teams, including La Crosse,
one of the best teams in the league. Peoria lost 6-5 and 3-0 in a mid-January series.

“We played two solid games against them. We did a lot of things right,” Ortman said.

If there is one area where the Mustangs have taken the biggest steps forward, it’s being able to be more consistent as a team.

“Our compete level has really gone up and we are getting more consistent,” Ortman said. “We’ve made some changes to our lineup here and there and just seem to be getting better every week. I’m seeing a lot of positives right now.”

Peoria has gotten great production from a couple of ’98 rookies in Jack Radley and Braden Stewart. The two have combined to score 40 goals and dish out 40 assists.

Jack Healy has tallied 12 goals and 24 assists, while Jack Power Wayvon has come up with seven goals and 25 assists.

Rookie goalies Zack Freiburger (8-4) and Dakota Meyer (7-8) have stepped up. Goalie Jaden Gardner (5-5-1) has also played well.

“Our younger guys are starting to buy in and we can watch video and say you did this, this and this, and this was the outcome we got,” Ortman said. “They are learning that this is different than youth hockey.”

Ortman noted that the fact that his team is facing strong competition helps in the growth of the players as well.

“We know we have to play well in every game and that makes you accountable for every shift, every period and every minute,” Ortman said. “The experience is going to be huge for us in the playoffs.”

Note: This is an updated version of an article that appeared in the February 2018 print edition of USA Junior Hockey.