Mountain Division Round-robin Recap
The road to the USPHL nationals is a long hard road for all of its league members, but it is proving to be one of the toughest for this season's 2020-2021 Mountain Division. The Utah Outliers began their round-robin play with games against the Northern Colorado
Eagles, Pueblo Bulls, and the Ogden Mustangs.
(Round-robin Game One) Northern Colorado Eagles 2 Utah Outliers 1
On Wednesday afternoon, the Outliers faced off against the Northern Colorado Eagles for game one of round-robin play. Both were teams eager to start their playoff week with a victory and earn some momentum for their respective team.
In the first period, the Outliers came out fast and furious, controlling much of the game and playing much of their time in the Eagles' zone. The Outliers would generate numerous scoring chances and peppered the Eagles goaltender with a barrage of shots. Unfortunately for Utah, their offensive efforts would not pay off on the scoreboard and the period would end scoreless.
The second period began much similar to the first with the Outliers asserting themselves and controlling the pace of the game. The team strung together some effective shifts and began once again to manufacture offense at Colorado's net. Utah would finally be rewarded for their efforts when forward Brett Morich found a lane to the net and ripped a shot past the Eagles' goaltender. Matthew Koepke and Nikita Andrusenko assisted on the goal.
The second period would end with the Outliers leading 1-0 but just as the period was coming to an end, Utah was assessed with a 5 min major penalty that would give life to the Eagles and put them on an extended powerplay to start the third period.
Starting the period shorthanded was not the game plan for Utah but the team showed their resilience with a great effort from the penalty kill unit to begin the third period. Unfortunately for the Outliers, things went bad from worse when the team was called for another infraction while already shorthanded. This would give the Eagles a five-on-three power play advantage.
Utah's special teams would successfully kill off the penalties and the team attempted to recapture some of the momentum it had lost while having to penalty kill for an extended length of time. It appeared that the Outliers were beginning to take back control of the game when a defensive error was made by goaltender Collin Soderholm. The Outliers goalie would race out of his crease to chase down a loose puck coming towards his net. As Soderholm went to shoot the puck away, it hit an Eagles' skater who collected it and shot it into the empty net to tie the game 1-1.
With just over two minutes left in the game, it appeared that both teams would be heading into overtime but once again the Outliers were called for a penalty with less than 90 seconds left in the game. This time the Eagles would make Utah pay and score on their power play opportunity to give Colorado a 2-1 lead.
Utah would pull Soderholm for the extra attacker but it was Colorado who would find the net again as the buzzer sounded to give the Eagles a 3-1 victory. It was a disappointing loss for the Outliers as the penalties became the story of the game and led to a loss to begin the round-robin play. The team would have to regroup and play more disciplined if it was hoping to advance into the playoff rounds of the Mountain Division tournament.
The game ended with shots being equal at 35 apiece. Although Utah goalie Collin Soderholm made a play on the first goal he wished he could have back, he was very steady in goal for the Outliers and made several key saves throughout the contest.
(Round-robin Game 2) Utah Outliers 5 vs Pueblo Bulls 3
Game 2 had the Outliers squaring off against the Pueblo Bulls. The Bulls had come up with a big win the day before when they defeated the Ogden Mustangs by a score of 3-2. The Outliers knew they had to find a way to come out victorious against Pueblo if they wanted to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The action in the first period against Pueblo was much more measured and controlled than Utah's previous game against the Eagles. Both teams seemed to be trying to get a feel for each other and how they wanted to dictate the play against one another.
The Bulls broke the ice seven minutes into the period when they recaptured the puck along the boards behind the Outliers net. A bulls' forward got to the puck and threw it to the front of the net where his fellow teammate released a quick shot past Outliers goalie Kyle Kozma for a 1-0 Bulls lead.
The Outliers would even the score when the Bulls were called for a delayed penalty and Utah pulled Kozma for the extra attacker. Josh Harrell controlled the puck in Pueblo's zone and skated up the boards towards the blue line where he made a drop pass to his defenseman Curtis Shukster. Shukster would skate down from the blue line towards the net and appeared to be preparing to shoot the puck on-net. Instead of shooting, Shukster made a slick back door, cross-ice pass to his defenseman partner Matthew Kopeke who bolted to the net from the opposite side of the zone for the tap-in goal to tie the game 1-1.
In the second period, both teams continued their calculated play against one another and worked to take control of the pace of play. After the first few minutes of the period, the Outliers would slowly start to exert their game plan more and more and started to play in the Bulls zone more consistently.
Five minutes into the period, Utah was rewarded for their efforts when the Outliers broke down on a rush attack towards the Bulls net and forward Josh Harrell made a kick-out pass to teammate Leeam Tivers driving down the left wing. Tivers collected his pass and released a quick shot that beat the Pueblo netminder for a 2-1 Outliers lead.
Just over three minutes later the Outliers scored two additional goals to increase their lead to 4-1. Defensemen Declan Douthart caught a pass high in the Bulls zone and walked the blue line to find an open lane and rifled a shot that beat the Pueblo goalie cleanly. Shortly after the Outliers third goal by Douthart, Leeam Tivers would strike again with a nifty deflection off a pass from defenseman Kaden Whaley.
Outliers' goalie Kyle Kozma fended off all 10 shot attempts by Pueblo in the second period and made some critical saves to keep the Outliers in the lead.
Third-period action had the Bulls starting strong and looking to make an offensive push to get back into the game. Pueblo capitalized on their pressure at the Outliers net when they scored just five minutes into the third period to make the game 4-2.
The Outliers remained calm and clamped down defensively to fend off Pueblo's attack. The Bulls would eventually add their third goal of the game with just 35 seconds left in the contest when they scored off a quick face-off play. The Outliers would also add one more goal when they scored with no time remaining on the clock with the Bulls net empty for an extra attacker. Josh Harrell would get the empty net goal and secure the 5-3 victory for Utah.
(Round-robin Game Game 3) Utah Outliers 4 Ogden Mustangs 1
In-game three of the round-robin portion of the tournament, the Outliers would play their state rival, the Ogden Mustangs. These two teams would be very familiar with each other as they had traded blows back and forth all season. The Outliers had won the past four out of five games against Ogden over the past couple of weeks and were looking to continue that trend in their final round-robin game.
The Outliers came into the game with a 1-1 record in the round-robin while the Mustangs came into the game with an 0-2 record having lost to both the Bulls and the Eagles. The Outliers were in a prime position to control their destiny. All Utah had to do was win the game and they would eliminate the Mustangs from the playoffs and therefore advance themselves into the playoff rounds of the tournament.
The Utah Outliers selected Kyle Kozma to start in net for the team while the Ogden Mustangs chose to play Titan Anderson. Both goalies proved to their teams that they were ready for the challenge as the two goalies made some big saves throughout the game to give their team an opportunity to win.
First-period action was immediately fast with both teams going on the attack right away. The intensity was high and the checking was aggressive which caused turnovers and offensive opportunities for both teams. With a lot of aggression being directed towards one another, it was no surprise that both teams would be called for some early penalties. Special teams would play a vital role in this contest as each team's power play and penalty kill units were asked to rise to the challenge.
It was the Mustangs power play that would land the first blow of the game when Ogden forward Cade Hererra shot a one-timer into the back of the Outliers net for a 1-0 Ogen lead. The game would eventually settle down some and the teams would battle five-on-five for the rest of the period and they would go to the locker rooms with the Mustangs leading 1-0.
In the second period, the Outliers came out hungry and determined to not let this game slip away from them. Utah got to their attack game immediately and began imposing their will on the Mustangs. With just over eight and half minutes into the period forward Leeam Tivers got the Outliers on the board to tie the game at 1-1. Assists came from forward Nikita Andrusenko and defensemen Matthew Koepke.
The energy from the Tivers goal inspired the Outliers bench and they continued to press in the Mustangs zone. Ogden goalie Titan Anderson stood tall and helped keep the game tied as the two teams headed into the second intermission locked at 1-1. Shots after the second period were 25-21 in favor of Utah.
The third period had both teams skating fast and checking one another relentlessly. Both teams started the period with some solid scoring chances that were turned away by each team's netminder. Slowly as the period wore on, the Outliers would find their offensive game in a big way.
It started with Utah recovering a puck in its own zone when defenseman Curtis Shukster gathered the puck and flipped it out of his zone over the heads of the Mustangs attackers who were pressing low in the zone. Utah's Matthew Koepke read the high flip play quickly and chased after the loose puck that headed towards the Ogden zone and slid towards their goaltender. The Mustangs goaltender Titan Anderson made a calculated move to sprint out of his net and try to get to the loose puck before Koepke. That decision backfired for Anderson when Koepke won the race and got the first touch on the puck and slipped it past the Ogden goalie and shot it into the empty net. That goal would give the Outliers a 2-1 lead.
The Outliers' second goal proved to motivate the group as they pushed harder on the gas and began to take over the game. They continually attacked the Mustangs net and were pounding shots at Anderson. Three minutes after the Koepke goal, Utah struck again with a goal by forward Micky Vignoli. The play started with Luke Volkmann making a nice stretch pass to linemate Nikolas Schwab. Schwab entered the Mustangs zone and then stopped up to let Vignoli drive the net with his stick on the ice. Schwab made a terrific pass right on the tape of Vignoli's stick who redirected the puck through the legs of Anderson for a 3-1 Utah lead.
The Outliers were not finished for the day, as Leeam Tivers set up the fourth Outliers goal when he made a nice play upon entering the Mustangs zone and passed to teammate Alex Charin. Charin who had built up speed in supporting Tivers on the rush, busted loose on the right side of the ice and drove the puck aggressively to the net where he made a fantastic backhand to forehand move and tucked it in on the far post past Anderson.
Utah held strong for the rest of the way and captured the victory by a score of 4-1 and punched their ticket into the playoff round of the Mountain division playoffs. The loss would officially eliminate the Mustangs from the playoffs.
The final shots for the game were Outliers 41 and Mustangs 29.
The Outliers will now wait to be seeded in positions 1-3 based on the outcomes of the remaining round-robin games. The first place seed of the round-robin play automatically receives a 'bye' and advances to the championship game. Team's seeded in position #2 and #3 will play a semi-final game to determine who plays the first-place seed in the championship game.
Stay tuned for more Outliers playoff action news!