By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com
Ogden Mustangs (2) vs. Pueblo Bulls (3)
All games played at The Ice Sheet, Ogden
Game 1: Friday, March 10, 7:15 p.m. MST
Game 2: Saturday, March 11, 7:15 p.m. MST
Game 3: Sunday, March 12, 1:30 p.m. MST (if necessary)
Utah’s Salt Lake City area will be busy with USPHL playoff hockey, as the Ogden Mustangs will be hosting one playoff series and then 45 minutes away will be the Utah Outliers hosting the Idaho Falls Spud Kings.
Both the Ogden Mustangs and their opponents the Pueblo Bulls are hoping to make their first – and last – trip to the USPHL Nationals, as the Mustangs will be moving to the Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference in 2023-24.
Ogden finished second in the Mountain Division this past season, finishing with 74 points off a 35-13-1-3 record, and Pueblo was 23 points back at third with a record of 24-25-2-1. The Mustangs were watching closely last week as the Bulls had to fight through a three-game series against the Provo Predators, with one game including a triple-OT thriller, to make it to one of the two Nationals-qualifying series in the Mountain Division.
“The Provo series was tough and they are a good team,” said Bulls GM Tyler Tuneberg. “They worked really hard and played us extremely tough. Looking at our strengths from that series specifically, we had extremely solid goaltending and a ton of depth scoring. Our guys have bought into the systems and are really hitting their stride executing off of the transition.”
The Mustangs come into the series having won five of their seven match-ups with the Bulls, the most recent a close 2-1 defeat of Pueblo on Jan. 29. This year, Ogden set an all-time high in Premier power play goals with 93 (they actually broke the record with their 77th – and just kept adding to that).
“The strengths of the Mustangs are the execution on the Powerplay and the pace we play 5-on-5. The USPHL record-breaking power play has created confusion for all opponents since Day 1 this season,” said Head Coach Kenny Orlando. “We structure our 5-on-5 game around fast-paced decision making and puck movement.
“Ogden is a really strong offensive team, boasting a really nice power play, the ability to attack through the neutral zone, and really mobile defenseman,” said Tuneberg, of the Bulls’ opponents. “We had much better matchups than the head-to-head record would show, and I think this will be a series to watch this weekend. Both teams are hungry and usually get the other’s best game. Our guys are prepared and know the building well.”
After seven matchups during the regular season, they also know the names well that Ogden will regularly turn through the gates – wave after wave of offensive threat. Orlando predicts that great play and leadership from “Jake Meure, Dimitri Voyatzis, Teddie Hember, Luke Faas, and our goaltending group” will be keys to victory.
Meure, of course, finished the season as the USPHL Premier’s all-time leading scorer, with 226 career points in 147 games.
The Bulls have plenty of pop to bring to the party, however, as well.
“Lukas Bjork, Alex Timmons, and Jack Sundhall have been the backbones of our team for most of the season. They have been competitors and each other’s biggest supporter,” said Tuneberg. “Outside of the crease, our captain Scott Bugarin, and veteran Thomas Soucy are the catalysts up front. They have to lead the scoring charge and play quite a few minutes for the Bulls. Our defensive core, led by four really veteran guys, has been very vocal both on the bench and with their play. Looking at the results from Playoff Series one, every guy has to be ready and they are going to get chances to contribute on and off the score sheet.”
None of these players are strangers to Coach Orlando and the Mustangs, but it all comes down to what happens on the ice.
“The regular season matchup with the Bulls was competitive every night. We are focusing on having better starts to the games as we have had to battle back in a good handful of the games,” said Orlando. “After a 5-2 record this season and lots of detailed practice preparation, the Mustangs are confident and ready going into the weekend.”
“Practice this week was much of the same as preparation for Provo, and really focusing on execution,” Tuneberg added on the Pueblo side. “Focusing on the tape to tape passes, scoring on our chances, and the mental side of playing in a playoff atmosphere.”