The Utah State hockey team will face their toughest challenge so far this season in the Beehive Showcase this weekend.
In a four-day stretch beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday, the Aggies will play four teams ranked in the top 11 in the West: number one ranked Northern Arizona, third-ranked Northern Colorado, sixth-ranked Williston State College and eleventh-ranked Arizona State.
Utah State should be up to the challenge as they are ranked second in the latest rankings which came out Wednesday morning. Head coach Jon Eccles said this week’s games will be a major factor in the rankings.
“This week is critical for us in that we do well, and we retain our number two position or even move up into number one, Eccles said. “Staying in the number one/number two spot is critical because then you don’t have to go to regionals and potentially get knocked off because you have a bad game.”
Eccles also said holding the first or second spot in the rankings will also help the team get into an easier pool in nationals. Last year, the Aggies were placed in a pool that had two teams that won national titles within the last three years.
Luckily, Utah State has been rounding into form just in time for this crucial stretch of games. Its offense has been especially good.
“We’re very fortunate right now because we’re stronger at the front end,” Eccles said. “We have three lines that can put the puck in the net. And any given night one of those can be the top line or the first line.”
USU has scored 106 goals in 17 games this year, second-most in the West Region (behind Texas A&M’s 109) and sixth in ACHA Division 2. In their last two games against UVU and BYU, the Aggies scored 25 goals.
Forward Morgan McJimsey is leading the charge on offense. His 14 goals and 32 points are both team highs and 32nd and 34th respectively in division 2. In those two games, McJimsey had five goals and three assists, with a hat trick against UVU.
“I got to play with Morgan,” said assistant coach and former USU hockey defenseman Shaun Gibbons. “He’s just a big offensive threat. He’s a big kid, a big body. He can score, he can hit, he’s pretty much an all-around player defensively and offensively.”
Overall, the team is excited for what will likely be one of the toughest four-game stretches they’ll play this season.
“There’s going to be a lot of great hockey,” Eccles said. “We’re excited, the boys are excited. We really look forward to this week and we know it’s going to be a long hard battle. But it’s what helps us prepare for what we’re really shooting for.”
The Aggies begin the showcase against Northern Colorado at 7 p.m. on Thursday, then face Arizona State at 7 p.m. Friday, Williston State College on Saturday at 7 p.m. and finish the weekend on Sunday at 1 p.m. against Northern Arizona.