The Weber State University hockey team was short-handed due to final exams last month, finishing its last two games of December with just nine players. After losing a game in the final minute to Northern Arizona University, the Wildcats got a win against San Jose State University.
“We had 12 players go with us,” said WSU head coach Joe Pfleegor about the game against NAU. “Two of the 12 were goaltenders. So we only had 10 skaters, and one got a concussion early in the first game. To play 60 minutes at this level with nine skaters, it’s unheard of. Nobody does it. But we didn’t have a choice.”
The Wildcats, with so few players, had a tough time keeping control of the puck, but their defense held strong early in the first period. The Wildcats ended up being outshot 58-25.
“It was terrible,” said WSU goalkeeper Ian Frank. “For the most part, we didn’t possess the puck much for either of those games because everyone was dog-tired. As the goalie, you have to move around a lot and you are squatting all the time. The first game they had about 60 shots, and the second game they had over 40, so I was pretty beat up after that weekend.”
The Icejacks were the first to score. Seven minutes into the game, NAU senior Gregory Park found the net off of an assist from sophomore Kirby Carlson.
The Wildcats answered right back not two minutes later as freshman Kody Rodriguez found the back of the net off of assists from senior Curtis Snowball. That knotted the game at 1-1, but that lead didn’t stand long. NAU retook the lead just seconds later on a goal from senior Ryan Greenspan.
WSU scored three goals in the second period from Rodriguez, senior Josh Giudice and sophomore Jacob Holmes. NAU scored two goals in the second period. The Icejacks switched their goalie after the third WSU goal.
The new goalkeeper blocked every shot from then on, and Park got his third goal of the game in the last minute of the third period, giving the Icejacks the win, 5-4.
“It takes everyone coming together for 60 minutes to get that win,” Knott said. “We played 59 minutes of hockey and they scored in the final minute. That’s how it goes.”
The Wildcats again played with nine skaters in their game the following day against SJSU. They controlled the puck better in this game, only being outshot 45-36.
The Wildcats struck first, with Knott scoring on an assist from Holmes. But SJSU tied the game up with a goal of its own five minutes later.
The game was a defensive battle for the first two periods, with each team’s goalie saving shot after shot. But in the third period, the Wildcats took control for good.
Knott scored again five minutes into the third period. WSU added another goal three minutes later as Rodriguez found the net. That gave the Wildcats a 3-1 lead.
“The goals that I scored were just great opportunities given to me from other guys on the ice that were playing with me,” Knott said. “We got good passes and played 60 minutes against San Jose State.”
SJSU scored with seven minutes to go, cutting the lead to one, but the Wildcats used all of their energy to seal the win. Knott scored again on an empty net to give WSU a 4-2 win.
“I’ve never seen a group of players work that hard,” Pfleegor said. “In that third period, they scored a goal to make it 3-2. We were trying to hang on by a thread. They pulled out everything they had left in the tank, and believe me, they didn’t have anything left. They were working on fumes.”
Knott said the team’s conditioning was the factor that led it to be able to compete with teams that had twice the roster size.
“I think that shows a lot of character from the guys that did come out, as well as the shape that we are in,” he said. “We were able to compete with teams that had 20-man rosters, and we had half of that and we were able to compete with them.”
The win propelled WSU to No. 3 in the conference rankings. The Wildcats will face off against No. 2-ranked Utah State University in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday. The Saturday game will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Weber County Ice Sheet.