Out, but not down

By By Natalie Dicou and By Natalie Dicou

By Natalie Dicou

The U hockey club’s home opener didn’t turn out at all like the Utes had hoped, as Weber State buried the rookie team 11-0 in a game in which the Utes were outmaneuvered in every aspect of play.

If you’ve just coached a team to an embarrassing shutout, what do you say to the guys in the locker room?

“I told a joke,” head coach Bob Wilkinson said. And why not? That’s been Wilkinson’s style all year long. Sure he wants to win, but he’s also not living in a dream world.

“What can we expect?” Wilkinson said of the Utes, who have played just three games since their three-year hiatus. “We’ve got to be realistic on this. We’re not going to go to the NHL playoffs with this team. We’ve got to start somewhere, so we start with 18-3 (against Utah State in the season opener) and we’re getting a little better each game.”

The Utes began their collapse early when the Wildcats scored on a breakaway just 1:11 into the first period. They fell further behind seven minutes later when Weber State added a second goal.

The most demoralizing moment came on Weber State’s third goal, which the Wildcats scored shorthanded. Weber State had not one, but two players in the penalty box and still managed to find the back of Utah’s net with just three skaters on the ice. From that point, Weber State never looked back as the Utes continued to fritter away power-plays, unable to control the puck even when they were up a man-or two.

Weber State put the puck past U goaltender Nick Cogswell eight more times in a variety of ways, including breakaways, set plays and rebounded put-backs.

In the Utes’ first two games, they found ways to improve each period, but the Weber State game was more reminiscent of a bell curve. The Utes had six shots on goal in the first period, 13 in the second and only eight in the third period. Not even Mike Wilcox, the Utes’ most consistent goal-scorer, was able to capitalize on any of the opportunities. By the end of the game, the Utes had been out-shot 55-27.

“We’re our own worst enemy,” Wilkinson said. “There was a lot of infighting in the first period.”

A few of the Utes turned on each other, which can be expected when a team is faltering. But Wilkinson “settled that down” and the Utes put their frustrations behind them, playing as a team during the remaining periods.

“Am I going to go (into the locker room) and yell at everybody, ‘You stunk?’ No,” Wilkinson said. “I’m part of this team, too. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me, because I prepare them during the week to go to battle.”

Wilkinson has noticed improvements since the Utes’ first game. “I think the passing is better. I think our defense likes to get into the play more. I like to let (the defenders) play instead of (saying to them), ‘you have to play defense.’ We were better organized.”

“(Hockey is) kind of like in business: working hard, working smart-there’s a difference,” he said. “We worked hard tonight. Now we got to start working a little smarter.”

In preparation for Utah’s rematch with UVSC this Friday, Utah will work on agility, passing and one-on-one defense in practice this week, Wilkinson said.

“I think with some changes and some work, we can very much improve,” Wilkinson said.

Friday’s home game at Steiner Ice Rink will be free to the public. Utah went down 8-5 to the Wolverines last weekend. It’s a game that the Utes believe they can win. The puck drops at 8:45 p.m.

Kim Peterson