Casper: Can the Coyotes finally get past the Ogden Mustangs?
The Ogden Mustangs have been a pesky Thorne (get it?) in the Coyotes' paws over the last three years. Casper has made the postseason each of their first three seasons in the WSHL and Ogden has eliminated them each time. The Coyotes have re-tooled this offseason, bringing in a mix of young talent and a new head coach in David Cole. It remains to be seen whether Casper and Ogden will cross paths again in the Thorne Cup playoffs but look for the Coyotes to make a run for the Mountain Division banner when March rolls around.
Colorado: Can the returning Eagles build off last year's performances?
Colorado has a handful of returning players looking to build off of stellar results in 2016-17. Braden Lajoie's 2.23 GAA was one of the lowest in the entire WSHL last season. Vincent Mastrandrea led the Eagles in scoring with 83 points, including 53 assists. New Colorado captain Carter Dahl led the team with seven short-handed goals. If they can continue that momentum of strong play, the Eagles could establish themselves as the team to beat in the Mountain Division.
Cheyenne: Can it be a lucky seventh season for the Stampede?
Cheyenne is entering their seventh season with a new head coach in Joe Pfleegor. Pfleegor's task will be to get the Stampede back to the top of the Mountain Division. Cheyenne has finished fifth or lower in each of the last three seasons. In their first three years, the Stampede finished third or better in their division, including a second-place performance in 2013-14. Pfleegor could be the bench boss that elevates Cheyenne back to the top half of the Mountain pack.
Ogden: Can the Mustangs get back to the Thorne Cup Final tournament?
Ogden made the Thorne Cup Final tournament last season by virtue of being the host team. From there, they put on a strong showing in front of their home fans, advancing out of the group stage and coming within two wins of capturing the Thorne Cup title. The Mustangs will look to find the same success that powered them to a 42-7-3 record and first place in the Mountain Division last year. If they can replicate that result this year, there is a good possibility that Ogden will be playing hockey in April.
Superior: Can the RoughRiders rebound from last year's setback?
The RoughRiders found themselves in unfamiliar territory last season, finishing at the bottom of the Mountain Division. It was Superior's worst finish ranking-wise in their program's history. There is no doubt the RoughRiders will be looking to get back on the right path this year. With their disciplined style of play, it is hard to see Superior staying in the basement this season.
Utah: Can the Outliers avoid another slow start?
Utah got off to a rough start last year, dropping eight of their first nine contests. It was not until the Western States Shootout that the Outliers really got rolling and powered their way to the division semifinals in the playoffs. The Outliers will look to start on the right track as they face Odgen and Colorado to start the season, the two teams that finished ahead of them in the standings. If Utah can get some wins against their rivals early, it could be the difference in getting into the top two and securing a first-round bye.
Be sure to follow Charles Woodall-Pike (@CactusonIce) for all things Mountain Division
Photo courtesy of Marc Mauno
First Game: October 13 vs. Lake Tahoe
Perhaps a name change from the Junior Steelheads to the IceCats will encourage coach John Olver's team to finish what they almost accomplished last season – the WSHL Thorne Cup – after a 4-3 loss to Wichita in the championship game.
Home Opener: October 13 vs. Lake Tahoe
The team's new uniforms will be unveiled when the IceCats play their first hockey game, 22 days after the start of the WSHL season at the Manchester Ice and Event Centre on the banks of Payette Lake in McCall.
Three games are scheduled for CenturyLink Arena in Boise including October 15 when the IceCats take a two-plus hour trip south to host the Icemen, then West Sound on January 14, 2018 and Ogden on Feb. 18, 2018.
Key Stretch: February 9-18
A pair of out-of-division games with Ogden and Utah could bolster Idaho's confidence down the stretch. The newly named IceCats lost only six games in the 2016-17 regular season with one defeat coming late in February to Utah in double overtime. Ogden also took a pair of games in March and one in round-robin play of the Thorne Cup playoffs.
Out-of-Division Games: October, 27-29 vs Casper; December, 1-3 @ Ogden; February, 9-11, 2018 @ Utah; February, 16-18 vs Ogden
Not one to shy away from tough opponents, the IceCats head north and east for 12 games against out-of-division teams. Idaho went 3-4 against Ogden last season, outscoring the Mustangs 18-17.
West Sound Warriors
First game: September 23 vs Seattle
It seems somewhat strange to start the season on a Saturday, but that's what the renamed Vancouver Rangers will do when West Sound hosts Seattle at the Bremerton Ice Center. West Sound played in the Northern Pacific and United States Premiere Hockey League before a deal repackaged Vancouver in Bremerton, Washington.
Home opener: September 23 vs Seattle
Led by former Butte Cobras head coach Ty Smith, the Warriors start their inaugural stint in the WSHL against the Totems. That's two days after the official start of the WSHL's 24th campaign.
Key Stretch: October 6 to November 4
West Sound doesn't play for two weeks after opening weekend and it will test Ty's team with nine of 12 games at home during this stretch. But it comes with a lot of fanfare including hosting Southern Oregon back from the break October 6-8 and Idaho October 20-22. Throw in a mix of home-and-home games with Seattle and the Bellingham Blazers, along with a solo match against the new Kent Ravens during that time
No out-of-division games are scheduled but West Sound will face Seattle and Kent 10 times this season.
Southern Oregon Spartans
First game: September 22 vs Lake Tahoe
One of 14 teams to play the second day of the 2017-18 season, Southern Oregon will host the Lake Tahoe Icemen on September 22. The Spartans swept all six games last season with two contests going into double overtime before the Spartans found victory. Southern Oregon outscored Lake Tahoe 33-13 in the season series.
Home opener: September 22 vs Lake Tahoe
For the third time in four seasons the Spartans will open at home on Southern Oregon Ice in Medford, Oregon. The Spartans are 2-1 in the past three season-opening games.
Key Stretch: November 10-26
Starting with out-of-division home games against the Utah Outliers on November 10, the Spartans will face three teams that had no less than 30 wins last season. The following weekend Southern Oregon travels to McCall, Idaho for games with the Idaho IceCats then return home for a trio versus West Sound (coached by Ty Smith with 36 wins in Butte) over Thanksgiving weekend.
Ogden visits Southern Oregon on October 20-22 to start the first of two out-of-division series for the Spartans – along with the aforementioned Utah Outliers. Last season Ogden and Southern Oregon clashed in the Las Vegas Showcase where the Spartans won 3-2 on a shootout goal by Chris Seto.
Lake Tahoe Icemen
First game: September 22 @ Southern Oregon
The first of 24 road games starts the season for Lake Tahoe under second year head coach and GM Mickey Lang in Medford, Oregon. Getting wins early will be helpful since three of the first four home stands will be on the road.
Home opener: September 29 vs Arizona
Lake Tahoe had the luxury of starting the first nine games last season at home, but not this time. Arizona's Hawks visit the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena located in one of California's most beautiful places. The Icemen swept the Hawks last season, who only posted one victory: 3-2 over Fresno five games into the season.
Key Stretch: November 3 to December 3
Sandwich West Sound and Bellingham between Ogden and Utah and barring major upsets the Icemen could see themselves sitting close to the top of the Northwestern division heading into the showcase. Recent commitments look favorably on a team that stayed competitive down the stretch last season including a second-round playoff appearance.
Out-of-Division games: September 29-October 1 vs Arizona; October, 13-15 @ Idaho; November, 3-5 @ Ogden and December 1-3 @ Utah
It seems like many teams from the Mountain division prefer to play teams from the Northwest division. Lake Tahoe will test their skill against opponents from higher elevations. Arizona, who the Icemen fell 4-1 in last season's Las Vegas Showcase, are the only home non-divisional opponent.
First Game: September 23 @ Kent Ravens
One of the youngest teams in the WSHL meets the newest when Bellingham travels to Kent, Washington for a solo affair to begin the season. The Saturday game is the only contest scheduled for the second league team to have the Blazers moniker.
Home Opener: September 30 vs. Seattle Totems
After a road game the night before in Mt. Lake Terrace, Washington against Seattle, the Blazers host the Totems at the Bellingham Sportsplex. It's the second consecutive year Seattle has been the opening night opponent. In fact, both teams will play the following weekend in Bellingham's barn October 6-7.
Key Stretch: November 3 to November 19
Playing only one road game at Kent – one of 10 solo games versus the Ravens – gives the second-year team an advantage when Southern Oregon and Lake Tahoe visit. Any benefit will boost the Blazers before they meet Idaho for home-and-home games the second half of the season.
Out-of-Division Games: January, 19-21 @ Idaho and March, 2-4 vs Idaho IceCats
Last season the Blazers (a.k.a. Blaze) were shut out three times against Idaho IceCats, (a.k.a. Jr. Steelheads) in six meetings. Bellingham was outscored 32-6.
First Game: September 22 @ Seattle Totems
The Kent Ravens (now rebranded from the Seattle Ravens) joined the West Sound Warriors by moving to the WSHL. New head coach Andy Jasicki takes the reigns of a rookie squad which will start making records the moment they step on the ice.
Home Opener: September 23 vs. Bellingham Blazers
The Kent Valley Ice Center will be packed when the WSHL's newest hockey team takes the ice against the Blazers. West Sound visits the following night, which is typical of the Ravens schedule this season. Kent's schedule includes several solo tilts with every Northwest Division team.
Key Stretch: January and February
The Ravens play seven of 10 January games on the road but make up for the roadies with five of seven at home during a light February schedule. Those two months could wreak havoc on a novice team down the stretch.
Out-of-Division Games: None
Kent does play Idaho six times but history says that will be a tough go for the Ravens. Kent heads to Manchester Ice Rink in McCall the week before the Las Vegas Showcase. It's sandwiched between a single tilt with Bellingham.
First Game: September, 22 vs Kent Ravens
Seattle joins Kent and Bellingham playing single games during the three-day opening weekend of the season. The Totems play at West Sound the following night.
Home Opener: September, 22 vs Kent Ravens
Fans only get one game to welcome their Totems, before a road trip the next night. Since distance is not an issue for most teams, the Totems will swap locations with Bellingham the following weekend playing at home in Mt. Lake Terrace September 29 then in Bellingham on September 30 in Washington.
Key Stretch: February, 23-25 @ Idaho and March, 2-4 vs. Southern Oregon and West Sound
Unfortunately, the Totems have two weeks off in February. While its perfect injury healing time, that's also when Seattle travels to Idaho for three games. The then Jr. Steelheads swept the Totems in six games outscoring Seattle 27-2 while tossing two shutouts.
Out-of-Division Games: None
Seattle will stay within the Northwest Division. Lake Tahoe is the only team besides Idaho, which the Totems will play three consecutive games against.
Article by Steve Casson, Northwest Division Correspondent
Photo courtesy of Marc Mauno