If you were to look at just wins and losses, it would be hard for you to call the Ogden Mustangs inaugural season in the Western States Hockey league a success.
If instead, you were to judge based on how the Mustangs established themselves as part of a community and built a solid foundation for years to come, your answer would be much different.
After two failed seasons in Bakersfield, California, the Jr. Condors packed up and moved north to Ogden, Utah, a suburb about 40 miles north of Salt Lake City.
The relocation was confirmed with only a few months left before the season began, so ownership had to scurry to find a team name, logo, coaching staff, finalize the agreement with the arena and begin establishing their franchise in and around the city.
As one would expect, the Mustangs got off to a slow start, winning just one of their first nine games but despite their record and through often-inclement weather, fans came out in droves to checkout the new kids in town.
The Mustangs won their first-ever series in late October, by taking two of three games from the New Mexico Renegades and it seemed as though the tide was about to turn.
The momentum didn't last long however, as they quickly went on to lose their next 11 games in a row, before eventually letting go of head coach Devin Firl.
Making a coaching change mid-season is always tough, as a replacement is nearly impossible to find. The Mustangs coaching search was a swift one however, as they brought in Joe Pfleegor, who is familiar with the area, having previously coached for Weber State University.
Pfleegor brought the Mustangs back to the fundamentals and quickly turned the team around with a good showing at the All-League Showcase in Las Vegas.
Despite their poor record, Pfleegor and his boys kept fighting, knowing that only one team in their division would miss the playoffs and that they only had to beat-out another first-year team, the nearby Park City Moose.
The second half of their season was far better than the first, as the Mustangs dug deep and won five games in a row in late January, including two huge wins over the rival Moose and a sweep of the Dallas Snipers.
After a couple of rough series against Boulder and Cheyenne, Ogden finished up the regular season by beating Park City twice more and securing the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, their opening round consisted of a series in McCall, Idaho against the league-leading Jr. Steelheads, who hadn't lost in 26 straight games dating back to November 25.
As many expected, the Steelies made quick work of the Mustangs and ended their season with a two game sweep.
Through a late start, hardly any recruiting, in a new city and arena with a completely new coaching staff, a coaching change during the season and plenty of adversity, it's a small miracle that the Mustangs fared as well as they did.
More important than wins and losses, especially for a first-year program, is how well they are accepted into the community and what the program proves it can provide perspective players, in terms of amenities and eventual advancement.
Ogden, which has supported a minor league baseball team for 18 years, fell in love with the Mustangs and provided a great stage for the players to perform. Even late in the season, in a meaningless game against the lowly Moose, the Ice Sheet was nearly 75% full of rambunctious Mustang fans.
If the league kept attendance numbers, there is zero doubt that the Mustangs would own the top spot and that is a testament not only to the fans but also ownership, who moved the program out of a place it would have never succeeded and positioned it to be a power for years to come.
Their facility is top notch, with a beautiful locker room, training center, VIP area and many other amenities you are used to seeing in a professional setting. Their in-game entertainment is also great, providing not just a hockey game but an experience.
Their players also benefit from a great medical, dental and training staff, as well.
They won't have as many excuses to use in year two however, as new head coach Jake Laime has had a full summer to recruit after coming over from the Florida Jr. Blades of the Empire Junior Hockey League.
An interesting advantage that Coach Laime possesses is his background in athletic training. The edge he gains from his knowledge helps him to gauge how hard he can push his players, not only in games but also during training, in order to get the most out of each and every one of them.
He will also be more involved with the medical staff than you're used to seeing from most head coaches, as he understands the complex lexicon and exactly what that means in the process of getting his players healthy and back on the ice should they incur and injury.
With everything now up and running, the Mustangs know what to expect and understand that they will have to start putting a quality product on the ice.
I have a feeling that they will do just that.
Sure, their division has only gotten tougher, as Southern Oregon and Seattle, Northern Pacific League powers for years, enter the division and returning is none other than the back-to-back Thorne Cup Champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
The Mustangs are ready to make a name for themselves and won't settle or accept losing, which is something Laime preaches.
He has been hard on the recruiting trail, informing me that he has modeled his team after the championship squads that John Olver molded in Idaho and he feels as though he can put the Mustangs on the map as early as this season.
It's one of those situations where everything seems to be in place, now it's just a matter of getting the job done.
Players Moving Up:
With Weber State University located just down the road, many Mustangs will more often than not have a spot with the Wildcats ACHA club team after their junior careers conclude. A handful of 2011-2012 Mustangs will be suiting up for Weber State in the fall, while also gaining an education, the list includes forward Dax Hobbs, who led the team with 43 points last season, as well as fellow forwards Derek Friend, Coleman Ashworth and Landon Aylar and defenseman Jesse Love.
Only three forwards return from last year's squad, even though many were still junior eligible. Laime tells me this is because he wants a fresh start for his team, where they will not accept losing and push that much harder as a team.
The three players that return are all high-character guys that will work hard to avenge the struggles they faced last season.
The top returner has got to be Kody Rodriguez, who I feel is one of the most underrated players in the league. He's a Utah-native, who averaged more than a point per game in his rookie season, while also piling up 150 penalty minutes.
He's not very big but he has a rare combination of skill to go along with his "bull in a china shop" mentality. Pound for pound, he's probably one of the best fighters in the league, too.
Coming back for his third season with the franchise (he played a season in Bakersfield) is Alex Pizarro. He's another guy that won't stop until the final buzzer and is also very underrated in terms of skill.
The last returning forward, as it stands right now, is another Utah kid, Zach Brannon. In limited playing time last season, Brannon was a solid bottom six forward who finished all of his checks and did anything the coaching staff asked of him.
Laime says that Brannon came to camp this year in better shape than ever and is chomping at the bit to earn more ice time this year.
New faces will also help bolster the Ogden offense and Laime has made use of his eight import spots better than most, with a mini version of the United Nations.
Olle Vennstrom and Sebastian Rydstrom come to Ogden by way of Sweden, so they won't be in for a ton of culture shock once the weather starts to turn.
Vennstrom is highly skilled for a big boy, think Marian Hossa (I realize he's not as talented as a perennial NHL All-Star, it's just a broad comparison.) Rydstrom is vastly different from his fellow countrymen but makes up for his lack of size with great hands and a goal scorers' mentality.
The first Slovenian to play in the WSHL, Matic Ovsenar, is another highly skilled forward who should see big minutes on the powerplay.
One of the three natives of Great Britain to join the Mustangs this season is forward Bobby Chamberlain, who is already used to North American hockey after playing for the Ontario Hockey Academy the past couple of seasons.
Another big name coming to the Mustangs is forward Sean Haltam, who began last year with the Port Huron Fighting Falcons of the North American Hockey League, before being returned to the Cleveland Jr. Barons 18AAA program.
Lastly, a sure to be "fan favorite" as Laime referred to him as, is the diminutive forward Eryn Siracusa, who goes full bore every shift and hits everything that moves, firing up the crowd and his teammates.
He is also no slouch in the offensive department either, notching 70 points last season while playing for Laime in Florida.
With only three returners, the new faces are always question marks until the season begins but at least on paper, it looks as though the Ogden offense will be vastly improved and not as one-dimensional as last season.
Erik Fischer, who came to the team after the holiday break last season, is the only returner to the Ogden blue line.
Fischer is a big kid who was very raw when he first got to Ogden but got stronger as the season went on and figured out how to use his big frame.
Laime expects this season to be a big one in terms of Fischer's progression, as the Nevada native continues his maturation process.
Again, the name of the game for Ogden is newcomers and it looks as though they have a solid group.
Another Brit that is expected to standout is defenseman David Clements, who captained the Notre Dame Hounds Midget AAA squad last season.
Laime not only likes Clements' skill but also his leadership abilities, which he proved not only on the ice but also in the classroom last season, which Laime sees as a huge sign of dedication and character.
Lastly, another import, Martin Bolcs of Slovakia, was expected to make the Michigan Warriors of the NAHL out of their training camp but injured his hand on day one and would up falling into the Mustangs' lap.
Laime likes his ability to handle the rough stuff, while also chipping in with plenty of offense from the point.
The defense in Ogden is very similar to their offense, very few players returning but rich with a diverse set of talent.
Ogden's offense and defense will certainly have a new look in the fall but the goaltending situation has been completely overhauled this summer.
Gone are Alex Glockner and Aleksi Kiviranta, who combined to start 44 of the Mustangs 45 games last season.
Stepping in are four, yes that's correct, four new faces who will battle for three roster spots.
Most teams elect to come into the pre-season with three goaltenders on their roster and let it play out from there but Laime likes the idea of four kids pushing one another for just the three spots and as he put it, "will wait to see the cream rise to the top."
Daniel Selby is probably the most fundamental netminder of the group, coming to Ogden from the Twin Bridges Lightning youth program in Illinois.
He was a second round draft pick in the NA3HL last season but decided to hold off, finish up his youth career and now make his way west.
He is a competitor that doesn't give up on the play and fights through traffic to see the puck.
Colby Atkinson is the only goaltender of the four with WSHL experience, having begun last season with the Idaho Jr. Steelheads before being sent to the Eugene Generals of the NORPAC.
Richard Fithian is the most junior experienced of the four, having played last season for the Bozeman Icedogs of the America West Hockey League, where he put up less than stellar numbers.
Laime feels that Fithian will benefit from practicing and playing against better shooters but will still need to work on his strength if he wants the top spot.
Lastly, David Anderson is a Southern California kid that has improved dramatically over the past couple of seasons. Laime likes his work ethic and how he asserts himself in the crease.
Ideally, Laime would like to pick his three in early September and head into the season with a solid number one and "two number two" goaltenders that he can rely on to step in when called upon.
Again, plenty of potential but we'll see how it all pans out in the Ogden crease.
As Laime put it to me, this isn't a season for Ogden to go out and get moral victories or take what they learn from losses. It's time for the Mustangs to compete in every game and establish themselves as one of the better teams in the league, which I truly believe can happen if they buy into what Laime is preaching and play to their full potential.
The talent is in place for the first time since the Miller family took over ownership of the franchise and they now have a solid coaching staff in place, in a location that gives them the confidence to win hockey games.
Their divisional schedule will be tough, probably one of the toughest in the league, as they will play six against Idaho, Seattle, Southern Oregon and Salt Lake City but again, there are four playoff spots and only five teams.
Out of division, the Mustangs will host the Valencia Flyers, who look as though they'll build upon a strong 2011-2012 season and be a contender once more. The two teams will meet on opening weekend, September 21-23 at the Ice Sheet.
Also coming to town is the Cheyenne Stampede, whom the Mustangs built a solid little rivalry with last season, when Cheyenne was still a part of the Mountain Division. They really don't like each other and it should make for an interesting weekend of hockey.
The Mustangs will also take to the road for out of division series against the Boulder Bison and Bay Area Seals.
Laime is excited to get the season going and can't wait to kill the anticipation and play hockey on September 21, which he feels will be a big step in continuing to build a premier program.
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League / Image provided by Ogden Mustangs.