USU hockey falls to reigning champs in opening nationals game

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The Utah State hockey team fell in their first game of nationals to reigning division two champion Florida Gulf Coast.

Brett Fernandez scored twice for the Aggies to give them a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. But the Eagles scored five unanswered goals, including an open net goal with 12 seconds left, to down the Aggies.

“We played a good 30 minutes,” said head coach Jon Eccles, “and then the other 30 minutes we didn’t play the way we should have.”

Eccles pointed out a particular play where the defense broke down and allowed the Eagles to get a short-handed goal in the second period. The first of their five.

“The momentum just shifted right there and we didn’t recover,” Eccles said. “We started playing not to lose instead playing to win. We just made some mental mistakes out there and we didn’t recover.”

Shaun Gibbons had a chance to tie the game 3-3 midway through the third, but FGCU goalkeeper Tyler Tracy made a spectacular diving save to deny the shot.

The loss leaves the Aggies last in Group B with two more games to play.

The Aggies had a tall order in facing Florida Gulf Coast. In the final ACHA rankings, the Eagles were the top-ranked team in the East region and had the highest computer rating in division two.

Florida Gulf Coast finished the regular season with just one loss (in overtime).

Despite the challenge, Eccles said Utah State could have won.

“I don’t think they were any better than us,” Eccles said. “You could tell by the way we played, we weren’t afraid of them. We felt that our makeup, our team, was just as good as theirs.”

The Aggies will continue Group B play Thursday against New York University (the 2014 champion), who tied with Aurora University thanks to a last-minute goal.