No. 18 BYU hockey team unites and gains momentum

BYU freshman hockey player Ashton Shimbashi skates in a game against Idaho earlier in the season. The Cougars are now ranked No. 18 and gaining momentum. (Ed Gantt)

The regionally-ranked No. 18 BYU hockey team has started out the season 6-14, winning six of the last 12 games and is quickly gaining momentum.

The 2015-2016 BYU hockey team has already won more games than they did at this point in the season last year and is now ranked, despite lacking several experienced players from last year’s team. These players did not return to play for various reasons and as new players have joined the program, it has taken some time to come together and unite as a team.

“We’ve for sure matched, if not exceeded, expectations that we had at the beginning of the year,” junior right wing forward Tate Cowley said.

Senior captain and defender Blake Holmes said traveling has given the team opportunities to strengthen friendships and build trust, which has extended to the ice and contributed to the team’s success.

The first half of the season included losses to American Collegiate Hockey Association West Region ranked in-state rivals No. 2 University of Utah, No. 3 Utah State, and No. 6 Weber State. Splitting wins in two-game series with then-ranked No. 12 Cal State Northridge and No. 18 University of Washington has built momentum. BYU beat Cal State Northridge in overtime in the first game of the series and lost by one goal in the second.

“It feels good to be able to work hard and come out with wins when the odds are against you,” senior goaltender Scott Mehr said.

BYU hockey head coach Ed Gantt said the team’s most important contributor right now could be found in Mehr because he has “stepped up and has played brilliantly.” The goaltender has a save percentage of 87.6 percent so far this season.

“Scotty has just been playing just out of his mind, really,” Gantt said. “I think he’s really becoming one of the best goaltenders in the whole region right now.”

Gantt also mentioned Cowley is a player who has been making an impact this season, having scored ten goals. Cowley recently scored the first hat trick of his college career in the Cougars’ 3-2 win over the University of Wyoming on Friday, Nov. 20. Each one of Cowley’s goals mattered and gave BYU the upper hand. He said he was “in the right place at the right time” during the game.

“Before the game, me and my linemates talked about really crashing the net and getting in the high-traffic areas where the puck ends up, to get loose pucks and get goals,” Cowley said. “And I just focused on getting to that area.”

Younger players are also finding ways to contribute to the team. Freshman forward Aleks Stroud leads the team with 11 goals and 13 assists on the season. He has also scored three game-winning goals so far.

“That’s been nice to see a young freshman come in and really be a dominant player,” Gantt said. “That doesn’t happen very often; usually it takes a couple of years for a guy to do this well. We’ve been real proud of him.”

Freshman forward Nixon Barber celebrates scoring a goal against Idaho earlier in the season. Members of the BYU hockey team are gaining momentum for the rest of the season. (Ed Gantt)

The Cougars love the special atmosphere that comes with playing for a BYU team. Hockey is known to be a rough and brutal sport, but the Cougars set themselves apart by focusing this season on becoming a Christ-centered team and representing BYU well.

“We get a lot of respect from other teams for how we conduct ourselves and I’m constantly uplifted by being with these men,” Gantt said.

Players and coaches alike say it’s an environment that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Gantt said one of the first things incoming freshmen notice about the team is the unique locker room scene. The Cougars pray before and after every practice and game, contributing to the Spirit felt there. Clean music is played and uplifting conversations are shared.

“The language in the locker room or the things we discuss is in conjunction with the gospel standards,” Holmes said. “And that’s been really different from hockey growing up, than playing in all different environments.”

Cowley said the team talks about how they are on the only hockey team in the world where members are living the Honor Code and discussing mission preparation or giving advice on dating, marriage and family.

The Cougars are looking forward to rematches against Utah State and Weber State as well as playing No. 10 UNLV in the second half of the season. Players say BYU can compete with and beat those teams. They are excited to play these teams after finding some success and apply the improvements they’ve made.

“From a team captain perspective, (we want) to continue developing, to continue down the path we’ve really started this past month and to build from there and to have a better team,” Holmes said.

BYU will travel to play Montana Tech in a two-game series on Friday, Dec. 4 and Saturday, Dec. 5 and then return home to host UNLV on Thursday, Dec. 10. Home games are played at the Peaks Ice Arena and the schedule can be found on the team’s website. The BYU Cougars Hockey Facebook page is updated frequently and more information can be found there.

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