It may not exactly be a worst-to-first scenario, but the Peoria Mustangs have a shot at first overall in the North American 3 Hockey League standings entering this weekend’s final games of the regular season.
Last year, the Mustangs finished in tenth place and out of the league playoffs.
According to co-head coach Steve Ortman, last season was expected, but this season, not so much.
“The main thing from last year is that we knew we had to clean house and go with a lot of younger players,” said Ortman. “We knew we would take a beating and would be taking a gamble, but it’s paid off this year. A lot of the kids last year played in situations they maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do. Now this year, they have that experience and it’s really been paying off for us. I had hoped in September that we’d be a .500 team and in the top six and once the wins started to pile up, we had to adjust our goals somewhat.”
Going into this weekend, Peoria sits three points behind St. Louis with a game in-hand. That said, if St. Louis wins their last game Saturday night in, of all places, Peoria, the Jr. Blues will clinch the regular season title.
Even if Peoria doesn’t finish first, the Mustangs still have their eyes on the playoffs and getting to the national tournament.
“I felt we had a solid tryout camp last summer with some very talented players coming in and great returning players, so (finishing high in the standings) was definitely on our minds,” said Peoria forward and leading scorer Nathan Chasteen. “I think we will be very disappointed not winning the Hurster Cup. It’s been the goal all season and it’s what you play for. It should be a very big challenge that our team is looking forward to.”
On the ice is where Ortman has noticed a different type of team this year.
“In this league, anybody can beat anybody on any given night; that’s been proven all season long,” Ortman said. “You can’t rely on your 30-goal scorers each night, so everyone has to play their role. On our team, the guys know what their role is and they stick to it. These guys want to do the little things. On some teams, everyone wants to score goals. Here, we have guys that want to block shots, that want to do the little things like be on the penalty kill, things like that.”
Ortman said it’s an obvious goal to win the hardware, but not the only thing he’d like to see out of his players.
“I think in years past we’ve had more skilled teams, but this year, I don’t know that we’ve ever had 20 more willing players that just battle. They work hard and if they give it their all for 60 minutes and we lose, well, then we weren’t the better team. I’d rather play 60 minutes, work hard and lose than win 3-2, but play like garbage.
“It won’t be a disappointment if we don’t win the Hurster Cup, but I hope we’ll be able to get one of the bids. We’ve had a great year to this point and if we give 60 minutes each game the rest of the way, win or lose, I won’t be upset.”
Chasteen said that Peoria is stocked with leadership on and off the ice that exude a winning attitude that all the players have bought into.
“The leaders help make this team a true team,” said Chasteen. “The coaches and GM have done a great job putting together the right mix of players. It’s been fun.”
BATTLE CREEK JR. REVOLUTION: Battle Creek wrapped up their first season in the NA3HL last weekend.
CHICAGO HITMEN: Matt Spica has registered six goals and five assists for 11 points over his last five games.
CLEVELAND JR. LUMBERJACKS: Goalie Alex Larson stopped all 41 shots he faced in an 8-0 shutout over Metro Sunday afternoon.
FLINT JR. GENERALS: Shane Totten had a two-goal, two-assist game in Flint’s 9-3 win over Michigan on March 3.
METRO JETS: Last Saturday night, Jacob Schlacht and Tommy Burns scored 42 seconds apart late in the third period to erase a 3-2 deficit and take a 4-3 win in Cleveland.
MICHIGAN MOUNTAIN CATS: Jacob Endicott had four points (two goals, two assists) in last weekend’s games against Flint and Toledo
PEORIA MUSTANGS: Anthony Yezek posted three assists in Peoria’s 4-3 win over Chicago last Friday night.
PITTSBURGH JR. PENGUINS: League goal-scoring leader Jayson Angus has 11 multi-goal games this year and is tops with 43 goals on the season.
QUAD CITY JR. FLAMES: With two goals last Sunday in Queen City, Kyle Vesling went above the 30-goal mark (31). He scored eight all of last season with the Jr. Flames.
QUEEN CITY STEAM: Ryan Faucheux and Cameron Carolus have each just missed one game this season.
ST. LOUIS JR. BLUES: Mark Tonhauser had his second multi-assist game of the year last Saturday against Battle Creek.
TOLEDO CHEROKEE: Cherokee captain Chad Tickner is tied for the league lead with seven game-winning goals this year. Charles Williams from Pittsburgh also has seven.