The Aggies found their offensive groove in the third period to go along with a stellar defensive performance as they blanked BYU 3-0 Friday evening.
USU opened the scoring just under five minutes in with a beautiful passing combination that led to a poke-in goal by Morgan McJimsey.
Immediately following the goal, fans threw teddy bears onto the ice that will be donated to various organization in Cache Valley. According to the USU Hockey Twitter and Facebook pages, more than 500 teddy bears were thrown onto the ice.
The first goal came early, but for most of the game, that was it for goals on offense as the team proceeded to go scoreless for more than 40 minutes of play, including all of the second period.
It wasn’t until five minutes into the third period that the Aggies got their second goal. Alex Herman put one home and three minutes later he added another on a five-on-three power play.
With the offense lacking for the majority of the game, extra pressure was placed on USU’s defense – and they delivered in a big way.
The Aggies defense made the Cougars’ offense look like children skating on a pond, allowing a mere handful of legitimate scoring opportunities. BYU managed just 23 shots on net – their second lowest total of the season – and all were saved by Austin Willenborg.
“That was a really big defensive win,” Willenborg said. “Our D pairs were really good. They made clean passes, breakout was easy, hit tape to tape, made it really clean to get out of the zone. Obviously, we had a couple of screwups but once we got rolling we were good.”
A lot of credit was due to the defensive pairs for the clinic they put on, but defenseman David Higgs said there was plenty of credit to go around.
“I don’t want to just give it to our D,” Higgs said. “I think our forwards played awesome coming back. They backchecked harder than I’ve seen in a long time. They were coming back all the way. Our goalie, Austin, he played out of his mind, made some amazing saves when we needed it, when the D made a mistake or we a bad pass he was there to help us out.”
Higgs, as well as Eccles, noted the team was playing a little slower due to sickness that has struck the team all at once.
“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.”
Even with the sickness, Eccles didn’t let those excuses cover for the offensive inefficiency.
“I think they guys were trying way too hard, guys were trying to do it themselves at times,” said Aggie head coach Jon Eccles. “You saw the first goal we got was a pass-pass-score. That’s what we keep telling the guys, move the puck around, have confidence in your teammates, don’t be selfish.”
Eccles also said in the second period the team wasn’t efficient with the shots they took, which led to all 15 of those second-period shots being saved by BYU goalkeeper Jared Manzella. Eccles praised Manzella as a “solid goalie.” Overall, the Aggies missed the net on 23 shot attempts, limiting their scoring opportunities the entire game.
The team will look to rest and recover this week as they prepare for a three-game home stand against Wyoming, Colorado State and the University of Colorado-Boulder from Thursday to Saturday.