OUTLIERS OUT WEST
The Utah Outliers are returning to action this week after having the holiday off, and will once again be taking on some unique opponents not normally common for Utah to be playing. Thursday and Friday night the Outliers will be taking on Western Division leaders the Long Beach Bombers, followed by a Saturday night contest against the Ontario Avalanche. In their three years of existence, the Outliers have only played against the Bombers once last year in the showcase (5-3 win) and have only played against the Avalanche three times back in 2016-17 (1-2 record). This will be a good test once again for Utah to see how they stack up against the other divisions. Some people may remember that the last time Utah and Long Beach faced one another, goaltender Dawson Rodin made some magic, scoring an empty net goal and sealing the win.
This season, the Western Division of the WSHL has belonged to the Long Beach Bombers, who enter the series with a 14-3-0 record. They currently sit one point ahead of the Fresno Monsters for 1st place. The Bombers play similar to the Outliers in the fact that they have a very big team and a bevvy of depth scoring. Eight Bombers have above between 12-28 points, including defenseman Filip Nordin who has 13. All but three players on the roster have put up at least two points, and traditionally this team always is amongst the top WSHL teams in terms of goal scoring during the year. Net minder Domenic Bosetti returns to the team after emerging as one of the top goaltenders in the league last season. As for Ontario, this season has not started as normal, with the team currently sitting at 4-9-2, two points behind the Valencia Flyers for 5th place in the division. Jeremy Van Dyke has led the way for the Avs with an impressive 12 goals in just 15 games. Linemate Brett Ruiz has done well for himself this season as well with a stat line of 5-11-16 in 15 games. Connor Duffy has earned a bulk of the work for Ontario having played 10 games, earning a .92 save percentage, and also chipping in 2 assists.
Utah is no stranger to their identity, with three goal scorers over 10 (Matt Bartel, Nicholas Ness, Zak Albers) and eleven players with 10+ assists. Although not one player on the roster stands out as the go-to guy, numerous different Outliers have shown they can step up and produce offense in different moments. The key for Utah will be to try and make sure that at least a few of those guys step up each night. For a team with as much depth in scoring, consistently scoring goals is the main factor that can determine a win vs. a loss. Defensively, the Outliers have shown that just like last season, it is difficult to score goals. Similar to last year, the team is in the top 10 in both goals for (5th) and goals against (7th). The blue line is also contributing up front, with all 7 defenseman having 6-17 points.
Another thing to keep an eye on is the addition of defenseman Austin Heinrich, a 2000 left handed shot out of Ontario, Canada. The 6’2 point man comes to the Outliers after putting up 12 points in 54 games with the Soo Thunderbirds of the NOJHL. Although young, he is in his third season of junior hockey and should add another element to a Utah blue line that has seen good offensive and defensive production.
Thursday and Friday night’s games will take place at 7:45 PM at The Rinks Lakewood, while Saturday night’s contest will take place at the Center Ice Arena at 7:30 PM. All three games will take place and be featured on Blackdog Enterprises.