Another heated battle between the University of Utah and the Weber State University hockey teams took place Friday night at the Weber County Ice Sheet. The Wildcats won the game against their in-state rival 5-3, handing the Utes their first loss of the season.
“It feels really good,” said WSU freshman Kody Rodriguez. “We played them two times this season and fell short. This one felt really good. We needed it. It’s kind of a momentum game. Hopefully we can go into these next couple games and win and get a streak going.”
The Wildcats lost to the Utes in their first two contests of the season. Both contests were brawls on ice, as each team had players ejected in both previous contests. Although the game was a bit tamer this time around, the referees had their work cut out for them, breaking up multiple skirmishes.
“The only thing I can compare this one to is maybe the game against Utah State here, and the games at Utah,” said WSU freshman Zach Endicott. “It’s a rivalry; it’s always a big crowd, a big game. Everyone’s excited. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in.”
The Utes came out with speed in the first period, controlling the puck for the majority of the period. Wildcat goalie Ian Frank had his work cut out for him in the early going, blocking multiple attempts from the Utes.
The Utes’ barrage finally found the net with 11 minutes to go in the first period. Sophomore Ben Seastrand found the net on a pass from freshman Tadas Tsibulskis.
The Utes scored again with seven minutes to go in the period, as freshman Josh Dangel hit the top of the crossbar and the puck dropped in. That put the Wildcats down two goals.
It was slim pickings for the Wildcats in the first period, as Ute goalie Chris Komma was once again a brick wall. The Wildcats went into the second period down 2-0.
The Wildcats got on the board with 14 minutes to go in the second period. Junior Phill Jennrich scored on a breakaway goal with the assist from sophomore Jacob Holmes. The goal was Jennrich’s ninth of the season, and also his ninth in the last five games.
WSU tied the game with nine minutes to go in the second period, with a goal from Rodriguez, with the assist from Jennrich. The period ended all knotted up at 2-2.
“It was a power-play goal,” Rodriguez said. “Phill came around the net. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with that can move the puck. He found the back door and I just slid it in. It was a pretty easy goal.”
The Wildcats came out aggressive to start the third period, flying up and down the ice. They took their first lead of the game just three minutes in as sophomore Jeremiah Holmes recovered a rebounded shot from senior Braxton Green and found the back of the net, right under Komma’s pads. That gave WSU a 3-2 lead.
With eight minutes to go in the final period, the Utes tied up the score. Playing four-on-four hockey, they attacked with precision. Seastrand scored once again, this time with the assist going to freshman Kurtis Kunz.
The Wildcats took the lead for good with five minutes to go as Endicott took a shot from the right circle and blasted it right past the Ute goalie. That put the Wildcats up 4-3.
“It doesn’t happen often to get an opportunity like that, especially for me,” Endicott said. “I’m a defenseman. I saw an opportunity coming in on a two-on-two and I decided to jump in. I had a wide-open shot, and the puck went right where I wanted it.”
WSU iced the win with a goal from Rodriguez with six seconds left. The goal came off of a steal and was shot from behind the blue line into the empty net. The Wildcats won the game 5-3.
“Even without them being undefeated, I think beating Utah, to these boys, is exciting,” said WSU head coach Joe Pfleegor. “It’s because they are a rival. You can see how tight the games have been all year long. Playing them this close together, it gets a little heated. It makes the win that much sweeter. The boys stepped it up today, and I guess to end their undefeated season adds a little sugar to that.”