The USU hockey team has been battling more than just opposing teams so far in 2018, leading to a bit of a rough stretch at the start of the calendar year.
Coming out of a nearly one month break for the holidays, the team is battling sickness while also getting themselves back into shape in preparation for the crucial final stretch of the regular season. Following the team’s 3-0 win over BYU, defenseman David Higgs noted the level of sickness on the team.
“We’re all trying to battle some sickness right now,” Higgs said. “We’ve all kind of gotten colds or strep throat or something like that. We’re battling through that, trying to get healthy.”
Head coach Jon Eccles also mentioned sickness following the BYU game, saying several players were unable to practice once during the week. Eccles also talked about how much the team’s four-game Colorado road trip a week after coming back from the break affected their opportunities to practice and get back in shape.
“We’ve only skated five times, maybe six, and we’ve had six games,” Eccles said. “And so, they are getting in shape but it’s a gradual build up. We’re trying to get them gradually build back up, get them strong because that’s a long break, three weeks off. And when you don’t skate for three weeks, it really affects you, your conditioning. But the guys are working hard, they’re not complaining.”
Despite the sickness and below-average conditioning, the Aggies have had a decent start to the new year. Along with a solid winning record (4-1-1) and a decent average goal differential (+1.5), the Aggies already have wins over two top-10 teams in the West region, Northern Colorado and MSU-Denver.
However, the team has looked slower than they did before the break and something seems to be lacking that was present with the team back in November and December.
From Nov. 8 to Dec. 8 (the last day before the break), Utah State lost just once in nine games – to division one University of Utah – and had an average goal difference of +3.7, a clear step above the team’s current average. For the entire season, the Aggies have a +2.8 goal differential.
The hiccup in Utah State’s play led to them dropping from second to third in the ACHA West region rankings. A drop that, if it holds, would force the team to play in a regional tournament if they want to have a spot at nationals (the top two teams in the rankings get an auto-bid to nationals).
With just five games left in the regular season, health could play a larger role than normal for the Aggies as they look to finish strong. Eccles said he plans to give his players some extra rest, admitting he may have pushed his players too hard in last week’s practices.
“We’ll have a good rest here,” Eccles said of the coming week. “We probably won’t practice on Monday, we’ll just go Tuesday-Wednesday and then we’ve got a three-game weekend.”
Utah State will play all three of the last regular season games at home this weekend. They will occur in a three-day span starting Thursday. Their opponents, in order, will be Wyoming (7-10-1), Colorado State (6-14-0) and the University of Colorado-Boulder (9-13-1).