2018-2019 SEASON COMES TO A CLOSE
The Utah Outliers 2018-19 season has come to an end this past weekend after a 2-1 series loss against the top ranked Ogden Mustangs. In what was a back and forth battle, both teams known for offense, really showcased that they can win a championship with defense. Ogden came into the playoffs with the number one ranked offense, Utah with 6th. Two of the three games required extra time, and the goaltenders were the stars of the show each of the three contests.
In games one of the series, the speed and physicality was on full display as each team traded chances. Both of the rivals exchanged huge hits and had a bunch of near misses. It was not until late in the first period that a miscue on an Outlier powerplay led to an Ian Currie shorthanded breakaway goal. Utah did not relent and as time was winding down, and it appeared to be going to the first intermission with the home team up by one, trade deadline acquisition Bryan Watters skated left to right and placed a beautiful wrister back over the glove of Artur Ogandzhanyan. Going into the second period, it was more of the same as both teams once again had near misses and traded a back and forth game. The flow of the game was also on full display as only one penalty was called for each team, allowing the skill level and work ethic to be the main focus. In the final period of the game, tragedy struck the visiting team as a two on 0 led to an Outlier puck going into the Ogden net, however the ref lost sight for a brief second and blew the whistle just before the puck crossed the line. As time winded down, a flurry of chances were stopped by both net minders, sending game one to overtime. The extra frame did not take long as each team had one big opportunity to end it. Utah came out on the first shift and had a a breakaway opportunity that was turned aside. Moments later, a faceoff win led to a great shot by Oliver Wieringa that eluded Oscar Wahlgren and ended the game for the home team. Wahlgren made 32 saves in the loss.
The second game of the weekend was more of the same, as each team came out swinging and going blow for blow. Rhett Rampinelli started the scoring in the game halfway through the first, which would turn out to be the only goal for the period. In the second, Utah would return the favor and finally cash one in as Anthony Masanotti took a puck to the net and slid it between Ogandzhanyan’s legs, giving the boys much needed momentum. Neither team could convert on the numerous chances in the middle frame and once again, the third period began in a 1-1 tie. In the third and final period, both teams tightened up on the back end, and limited the quality chances to a minimum. Finally, on a Utah powerplay, CJ Bundschuh found Jakub Lelek streaking towards the net. Lelek attempted a wrap around but at the last second found Nick Ness alone in the slot, and Ness made no mistake blasting one towards the back of the net. The goal gave the Outliers all the comfort they would need as they went on to block numerous shots, and play a gritty final ten minutes in front of Wahlgren. The big Swede also made a few highlight reel saves to help stall Ogden until the final buzzer sounded with a 2-1 visitor’s win.
The do-or-die finale of the series lived up to the hype, as once again each team came out hungry. The Outliers began the game by returning the favor from game one, scoring a short-handed goal on a breakaway, courtesy of Bradley Green. For about 52 more minutes, it appeared that the tally would be the only one required to win the game, and the series. The rest of the first and the entirety of the second period, no one could seem to solve either goaltender, keeping the home team at bay and keeping the away team in the lead. The last period of the series was all out desperation mode for the Thorne Cup hosts, as they continued to press putting on a number of quality chances. With only 1:19 left and the goalie pulled, a scramble in front of the net found the puck ending up on the stick of Harry Gulliver, who was able to put it past Wahlgren. With momentum now on their side, both teams went into the intermission, once again primed for overtime. The first over time was an all out war and fight of attrition as each team looked to be running on heart and not much else. Missed breakaways, blocked shots, and posts ringing were a common theme as each club came just inches away from winning. Both teams once again retired to the locker rooms preparing for the second intermission, with the score still deadlocked at 1. The second overtime was a duplicate of the first, with each team not risking much and taking their shots when they could. Late in the frame, a faceoff win for Utah took a bad bounce off the ref and went towards the boards, where Ogden was able to grab it and throw it on net, before Kerry Kruzel was able to poke it through Wahlgren and end the contest. Wahlgren played unbelievable in the 5 period game, turning away 70 shots.
Unfortunately for Utah it was not the end the boys were hoping for, bot nonetheless it was an incredible weekend of hockey that showcased two of the top teams in the WSHL battling from beginning to the very end. The Outliers now enter the offseason knowing what it will take to get back to the Thorne Cup, as the Mustangs prepare to do battle with the four other division winners, as well as the OKC Blazers who attained the wildcard. Although not the end that everyone was hoping for, it was a terrific season of hockey and the Utah Outliers will now set their sights on preparing to bring in a team next year to finally get over the hump and win the Thorne Cup Championship.
Stay tuned this summer for more information, highlights, and details regarding the 2018-19 season, the offseason that approaches, and what is to come for the team as they prepare for the 2019-20 hockey season.