Between the boards
After playing nine straight road games over four weeks, the Western hockey team returned to play at the Bellingham Sportsplex to host a two-game series against the University of Oregon on Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12.
Oregon was victorious in the first game with a 7-4 victory over Western. The result was the first time Western lost in the Bellingham Sportsplex since 2012 when Oregon handed the Vikings a defeat on its home ice.
Junior forward Kyle Mana said that the game’s physical nature shouldn’t come as a surprise.
“We don’t especially like [University of] Oregon,” Mana said. “Making those hits sends a statement to them we are not going to let them walk around out there.”
“It really helps us improve when we play those good teams. We can learn from them and learn what we are doing wrong.”
Oregon completed the two-game sweep with a 5-4 victory on Saturday, Nov. 12. Senior forward Billy Holbrook scored two goals in the loss and now leads the team with 12 goals on the season. Holbrook said Western played well, but committed too many penalties.
“The effort was 100 times better than last night. We were moving our feet and winning a lot of battles,” Holbrook said. “Ultimately, it came down to small, fundamental mistakes.”
After starting the season 6-0, the Vikings have gone 2-9 in the last four weeks. Western played nine of its last 11 games on the road — including trips to Montana and Colorado.
Western faced tough opponents including the University of Denver; ranked number six in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II West rankings. Senior forward Duncan Hack said facing those tough opponents has made them a better team.
“It really helps us improve when we play those good teams,” Hack said. “We can learn from them and learn what we are doing wrong.”
Western failed to win any of its games on the trip to Montana, losing two close games to Montana State University on Friday, Oct. 14 and Saturday, Oct. 15 in Bozeman, Montana. The Vikings were shut out 4-0 against Montana Tech on Sunday, Oct. 16, in Butte, Montana. The trip three weeks later to Colorado provided similar results with a 5-0 loss to the Colorado School of Mines on Saturday, Nov. 5, in Littleton, Colorado and losing twice to the University of Denver by a combined score of 20-7 on Friday, Nov. 4, and Sunday, Nov. 6, in Denver, Colorado.
Western hit the road again with two games in two nights against Eastern Washington University on Friday, Oct. 21, and Saturday, Oct. 22, in Cheney. Western won both games against Eastern with a combined score of 17-7. Western lost to the University of Washington 4-3 on Friday, Oct. 28, in Mountlake Terrace.
Despite tough results, Hack said the road trips provide an important bonding opportunity for the team.
“It’s hard not to be close after you spend 12 hours a day in a car together,” Hack said.
Holbrook said the team can ride the momentum from its positive effort against UO into the next game.
“We’re building our way back up toward the second half of the season,” Holbrook said. “Hopefully we can finish strong.”
Next home game: Gonzaga University at 10:15 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2, at the Bellingham Sportsplex.