WSU hockey rivalry with USU began years ago

(Source: Linlee Jones)
Two Weber State University hockey players surround a Utah State University player in a game earlier this season. The Wildcats and the Aggies share a “respect rivalry.”

Over the years, the hockey teams from Weber State University and Utah State University have battled for superiority.

“The rivalry between us has gone way back, even before I’ve been here,” said WSU senior Josh Giudice. “Back in the day, Utah State didn’t have a rink up in Logan. The rivalry started because they shared the same rink, the Ice Sheet. Not many people know about that. They were always rivals because of that. It’s just been very competitive between us.”

For the most part, the teams have always been equally matched. The feelings of rivalry are passed down from older players to new recruits.

“I remember (in) my freshman year,” said WSU senior Braxton Green, “the first game that we played was against Utah State, and all the guys were saying that this is a huge rivalry, and I definitely learned real quick. It’s always fun playing against these guys. It’s competitive hockey. Everyone is working hard. Everyone is out there trying to win.”

WSU vs NAU 11-23-13 24-X2
(Source: Joe Pfleegor)
Weber State University senior Josh Giudice handles the puck in a game earlier this season. Giudice said he enjoys the rivalry games against Utah State University.

The Wildcats fell on some hard times about five years ago. The team lost its competitive edge, but it has found it once again under head coach Joe Pfleegor, who took over the team at the beginning of last season.

“When Joe Pfleegor took over last year, he brought back respectability to Weber State,” said USU head coach Jon Eccles. “I’ve known Joe for a long time. He relied on me a lot to help him get things going. We’ve been close. If he has a question, he will call me and I can find the answer somewhere.”

Over the last two seasons, each game has been close. Of the three games played between the teams this season, the first ended in an overtime victory for WSU, the second ended in a tie, and the third was a USU victory in the final minutes of the game.

“Our first couple of games last season were one- or two-goal games,” Eccles said. “Before, they used to be 10 or 15 to two or three. They became respectable games. Fans for Weber came out and started watching. It’s been good.”

This set of games holds even greater significance, because a bid into the national tournament is the likely prize for the victors.

“Now, with the fact that they are No. 2 and we are No. 3 and this weekend may decide who gets a bid to Boston, you couldn’t ask for a better scenario,” Pfleegor said. “It’s one thing playing them when they are not ranked or vice versa. But when they are No. 2 and we are No. 3 and the winner gets a bid to nationals, you couldn’t write a better script. It will be something.”

But the rivalry isn’t quite as heated as it once was, at least not off the ice. In playing together on all-star and national teams, players from both squads have learned to get along and become friends.

“Even though it is a heated rivalry, it’s not one where there is hate involved,” Eccles said. “When they are out there battling, they aren’t friends, but after the game they are. They are texting each other — giving each other hard times. I think that that is so much better and healthier to have that type of rivalry. It’s more of a respect rivalry.”

Pfleegor used stronger words when he described the relationship between the teams when they are on the ice.

“We hate each other,” he said. “There is no secret about it. We don’t like them, they don’t like us. That makes a good match-up.”

Although after this weekend, the teams won’t meet again in the regular season, both teams still have the chance to play against each other again. This time it would be on neutral ice.

“I’m sure when we get to the Mountain West Conference playoffs,” Pfleegor said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if you see Utah State and Weber playing for the championship.”

All who attend this Saturday’s game at the Ice Sheet are invited to bring a teddy bear with them. After the first goal scored by the Wildcats, the teddy bears will be thrown onto the ice and then donated to local children in need.