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‘Cats tune up for nationals

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OGDEN — For the third time in its three-year existence, the Weber State Division-I hockey club will compete in the national tournament, March 2-5 in Philadelphia.

The Wildcats had a final tune-up by beating D-II Utah State 7-4 Friday in North Logan and 11-1 Saturday at the Weber County Ice Sheet.

Head coach Joe Pfleegor said he feels his team has an excellent chance at winning the national championship.

"There's not a team that stands out, so our chances are just as good as any," he said. "The top 12 of the 16 teams there all have a good chance. It comes down to who shows up."

WSU enters the tournament as the No. 6 seed with an overall record of 20-8-2.

"I think that's pretty fair," he said. "We started the season at No. 8 and we've been sixth or seventh most of the year."

Pfleegor said his team has had some hard luck at nationals in its first two appearances. Last season, the Wildcats lost to top-seeded Rhode Island 2-1 in double-overtime, which was an identical finish to the year before when the Wildcats lost to top-seeded Ohio 2-1 in double-overtime.

In Friday's game, the Wildcats had their hands full with the lower-division Aggies. After a John Darby goal put WSU up 1-0 in the first period, USU scored less than a minute later and then again with 2:34 to play in the opening period to give the Aggies a 2-1 lead.

Miles Wirkus tied the game 2-2 with 26 seconds to play in the first. The Wildcats then took a 4-2 lead on goals from Eric Milliron and Ian Soldano, but the Aggies came back again. Robert Hashimoto and William Winsa scored in the final three minutes of the second to tie the game 4-4. But Riley Patterson scored eight seconds later to put WSU up for good.

"We were looking past USU," Pfleegor said. "Finally, between the second and third period, we decided to start playing."

Pfleegor said the Aggies always play tough against the Wildcats.

"This has been a club rivalry for years," he said. "It's always a game when you come (to USU)."

Pfleegor said WSU will lose a strong core of players after the season.

"Half our team is seniors and half of it is rookies," he said. "Next year will be the rebuilding year. But if you spend too much time rebuilding it can take away from your focus on your goal, and that's to win."