by Paul Taylor

The Utah Outliers widened their lead of first place in the Mountain Division this past weekend. The Colorado Jr. Eagles came to Utah trailing in the standings by only three points. With all three teams (Utah, Colorado, Ogden) jousting for the top spot, the meeting between these two teams had major implications on seeding for the playoffs. The Outliers were able to pick up two wins and come out of the weekend with 4 more points, bringing their record to 37-10-1 with 75 points. The Jr. Eagles were able to pick up one win, and also another point in overtime. The results of the weekend now put Colorado in a tie for second place with the Ogden Mustangs with 71 points apiece (Ogden 35-12-1 / Colorado 32-9-7). All three of these teams have only a few games left with Utah heading to Superior, and Colorado heading to Ogden to close out the regular season. If the Outliers can take care of business against Roughriders, they can lock down first place and secure a bye in the first round, and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

In game one, Utah wasted no time as captain Jacob Wanstrom scored four minutes into the first period on a beautiful breakout play from Kaeden Meuer and Kane Toriumi. Much of the first frame was back and forth as each team piled up shots and scoring attempts, but both goaltenders stood tall. 

The second period played much like the first, with both teams garnering a lot of opportunities and both goalies denying those chances. The physicality started to pick up, but also similar to the first, only one puck would go on the board. With just under a minute to play, a powerplay opportunity gave Utah a chance to double the lead when Zach Dornseifer found Zack Hoffman who blasted a shot past Colorado’s netminder. 

The third period was heavily favored towards Utah as the Outliers out-chanced the Jr. Eagles and outshot them 15-4. Sticking with the theme of the game, again only one puck managed to beat Will Mcewen, courtesy of Dornseifer with the help of Roman Svik. The three goals were all that were needed to put a lock on game one and secure the win for the Outliers. Dawson Rodin finished with a perfect 30 saves to earn another shutout.

Game two was a special game as it was played at 2:45 PM at the Maverick Center prior to the Utah Grizzlies game. Unfortunately, game two did not yield the same results as the one prior, as the Outliers had a setback and dropped the game 3-1.

In the first period, the game was evenly played between both teams but the Jr. Eagles capitalized on two turnovers by the Outliers and scored twice on just 7 shots. Coloroado goaltender Braden Lajoie turned away all 9 shots he faced. The Outliers carried the play in the second frame, pouring on 12 shots to Colorado’s 3, but were only able to put one past Lajoie. Svik found himself alone in the slot four minutes into the period and blasted one right under the bar. The comeback would fall short however as the Jr. Eagles would add to their lead in the third on a 4v3 powerplay. Being outshot 33-17, Colorado was very opportunistic in capitalizing on their chances and sealed the win to knot the series at one apiece.

Game three was an intense battle with both teams doing everything possible to secure the win and earn the valuable extra two points. Utah started the scoring early in the first on a Benji Mickel goal. Vladislav Buyanov rifled a shot on net that found its way to Meuer. Meuer took a few whacks before Mickel grabbed the rebound and ripped it into the back of the net. Colorado responded around ten minutes later on a 4v4 situation, when Cory Richardson scored on a shot from the top of the circles that surprised Rodin. The score remained deadlocked at one until just over halfway in the third period. This time however it was captain Carter Dahl who put the Jr. Eagles on top. Similar to the first period, the Outliers responded quickly. Buyanov was able to find Svik, who slid a puck to a wide-open Oskars Ancitis. Ancitis placed a shot above Lajoie’s glove and evened the score again, this time at two. Neither team gave an inch and regulation would end, with each team claiming a point. The first overtime played just like third, but to no conclusion. It was not until the second overtime when Erik Safstrom stripped the puck from a Colorado player that the series would come to an end. While in the offensive zone, Colorado lost the puck at the Outliers blueline to Safstrom who sprinted off on a breakaway. He made a beautiful move and tucked the puck between Lajoie’s legs for the game winner. Rodin collected the win with a 28 save performance. 

The four-point lead Utah has over Colorado and Ogden is crucial with both of the latter teams playing one another next weekend. With 6 points up for grabs, both teams need to take as many as possible from their opponents in order to supplant the Outliers. The boys in black also have a chance to add 6 points of their own, so they’re in full control of locking up 1st place as they head to Colorado to take on the Superior Roughriders.