Returning home to host the Beehive Showcase Tournament, the Weber State University hockey team scored two big wins over top-ranked teams in the West. After defeating 15th-ranked Montana Tech of the University of Montana on Thursday, the Wildcats defeated No. 2-ranked Northern Arizona University 6-3 on Friday.
“I feel like it’s a statement win,” said WSU freshman Kody Rodriguez. “Some people may think that we are just sort of a luck team that gets fluke wins. Beating a No. 2 seed makes a statement that we’re here to take it all and we are not just a team that you can push around.”
The Wildcats were the first ones on the board. Coming off of a penalty of their own, WSU sophomore Kris Yelderman sneaked in front of the defense and was tripped up, giving the Wildcats a power play.
It took the Wildcats all of nine seconds to capitalize on the one-man advantage. Senior Braxton Green took the puck from senior Robby Knott and gave the Wildcats the lead, 1-0, with just four minutes gone in the first period.
“Our power play was unreal tonight,” said WSU head coach Joe Pfleegor. “. . . We got three power-play goals and we came out on top. And our penalty-kill unit played well too. Our special teams won us the game tonight.”
The Lumberjacks got the equalizing goal on a breakaway of their own 11 minutes later. On a steal, sophomore Corey Briody got behind the defense and teammate Kyle Mair dropped the puck in. Briody had a one-on-one chance with the goalie and he hit the nylon. The period ended with both teams tied at 1-1.
NAU took the lead early in the second period. The puck was cleared behind the WSU net, and Lumberjack Gregory Park caught it. Before any help could come, Park put the puck just under the pads of WSU goalie Ian Frank. That gave NAU a 2-1 lead.
The Wildcats shot right back with a power-play goal. Knott got the rebound off of an NAU shot and went coast to coast, juking defenders on his way. In no time, Knott was behind the defense and was one-on-one with the goalie, and he buried the puck. That tied the game at 2-2.
“I just got a lot of space and took what they gave me,” Knott said. “That gave me a lot of space, and I put the burners on and I went for it.”
The goal sparked a rally by the Wildcats that spanned nearly two periods. WSU scored five unanswered goals against the Lumberjacks.
NAU came close to taking the lead again near the six-minute mark, but Frank made a few stellar saves to keep the game tied. Both goalies were on their toes for the rest of the period, but neither team could break the 2-2 tie.
“The thing is with Frank, when we are going against these upper-echelon teams, it just brings out the best in him,” Pfleegor said. “When Frank is at his best, you are going to have a tough time getting goals by him. He knew how important this game was to the team and he stepped up his game.”
The Wildcats regained the lead early in the third period. On a steal by Yelderman, he found Green free behind the defense. Green rocketed a shot from the left circle over the NAU goalie’s left shoulder, giving the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.
“Whenever you have a tie game and you are going into the third period, you tell the boys, ‘Bottom line — it’s a 20-minute hockey game,’” Pfleegor said. “‘It’s who wants it more. Let’s go out and work hard every shift.’ You could tell we wanted it a lot more than they did. It showed.”
Two minutes later, the Wildcats padded their lead with another goal. This time it was Rodriguez who received a perfect pass right in front of the net from sophomore Dax Hobbs and found the goalie out of position. That was the first of two goals for Rodriguez in the span of eight minutes.
“It was just a two-on-one with me and Hobbs,” Rodriguez said. “We have a history together. I feel like any time me and Hobbs get a two-on-one, it’s almost a given that we are going to score.”
WSU added another goal with five minutes left as Knott found junior Phill Jennrich. NAU scored with two minutes to go to end the game at 6-3.
The Wildcats also played games Saturday and Sunday. Those games will be covered in the Wednesday issue of The Signpost and online at www.wsusignpost.com.