The Utah State University Hockey Team began operations in October 1994. A year earlier, the concept of a hockey team in a town without a rink was born over coffee in the student center.
Three hockey fans without any real playing experience wanted to start a hockey club with the goal of putting together a senior men's hockey team. Len Bauman went through all the details of setting up an official club at Utah State, not really realizing what he was starting. At the same time, Joe Bernardy was attempting to lure the four major universities in Utah to create a league, the Rocky Mountain Collegiate Hockey Association. A few months later, Utah State began attending the planning meetings for the new league and were determined to be a part of it.
The first item on the agenda was to get a head coach. Len found Matt Anderson, a student at USU who was the only USA certified coach in the area. Matt, from Soldotna, Alaska, had played hockey nearly all his life and was recruited by several Division I NCAA schools before deciding against pursuing a collegiate hockey career to serve an LDS religious mission. Coach Anderson was very tentative about the start up group, still the interest in creating a hockey team in Utah was intriguing enough for him to commit.
As the other three universities organized teams, the RMCHA appeared on the way to its first season. In September, Len and Matt found an assistant coach in Jerry Crossley from Edmonton, Alberta who lived in a neighboring community. The team organization was set and the first tryouts were held at the end of the month. All were surprised at the turnout and the level of hockey talent. While depth was a concern, the team had a solid core and began practicing in October. The only available ice was a 45 minute drive away in Ogden and the earliest ice slots available were at midnight. The Aggies began league play on November 1st, a 2-2 tie against the University of Utah.
After the opening tie, the Aggies won six of their next seven games, compiling a respectable 6-1-1 and the 20th ranking nationally in Division II of the ACHA. A trip to Colorado to play top ranked Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Buffaloes proved to be the turning point of the season. Several key players were injured on the trip and the Aggies were trounced 15-1 by CSU and beaten 6-2 by CU. The Aggies never recovered from the losses,dropping their last 4 games of the season to finish 6-7-1. Many Aggie hockey fans were born that year, with average game attendance at about 500.
Inspired by the successes and failures of the first year, Coach Anderson, now graduated, concentrated on recruiting. The RMCHA added three Colorado schools and Northern Arizona to create an eight team league. The second season saw many new faces on the Aggies squad, but the basic core of the first year team remained. Bolstered by recruits and some new walk-on blood, the Aggies were stronger and deeper. The USU administration and the student newspaper seemed to rally around the new sport and the team's support continued to increase. Fan attendance increased to over 700 a game.
The Aggies opened their second season with wins over California-Berkley and Stanford before falling to San Jose State. The Aggies then traveled to Colorado and played CSU, CU, and Denver University. The games were much more respectable as the Aggies beat DU and fell to CSU and CU. The Aggies then won six of their next seven, including a 6-4 upset over CU at home. The Aggies were the top ranked team in the West and were on a roll. Tragedy struck as the Aggies traveled to Arizona when the entire team was involved in a car accident involving a semi. Luckily, no one was killed, but three players (Greg Sutherland, Deryk Anderson, and Darin Wilde) suffered season ending injuries. The trauma nagged the Aggies for the rest of the year, but they still finished with a 13-4-1 regular season record. The Aggies received the top berth to the Division II ACHA National Tournament from the Western region. After winning their first game, the undermanned Aggies dropped their next two and were eliminated, finishing 12th at the tournament.
The 1996-97 season saw Jerry Crossley assume the head coaching duties while Matt returned to school and the ice. The Aggies started fast and never looked back, compiling a 19-3-1 regular season record, including three victories over CU. The Aggies won the RMCHA crown with a 12-1-1 conference record. Only Weber State and Stanford were able to defeat the Aggies in the regular season. The Aggies were awarded the second seed from the Western Region to the ACHA Division II National Tournament. The Aggies won their first two games before fatigue against a strong Ohio State team cost the Aggies a chance to advance to the semi finals, finishing the Aggies season with a 21-4-1 record and a 7th place finish in the tournament. Fan support swelled to over 1000 a game, including three sell-outs of the 1200 seat Ice Sheet. One game was sold out over an hour before and saw over 1,500 fans turned away.
The 1997-98 season was another tremendous success. Under Coach Crossley and new assistant Greg Gutterman who played Division I for the Air Force Academy, the Aggies had a strong coaching staff. The Aggies compiled an impressive 19-2-2 regular season record. Only rival Weber State was able to defeat the Aggies, while San Jose State managed one of the ties. With a 2-2-1 regular season record against Weber State, the Aggies entered the inaugural RMCHA tournament as co-favorites. Weber played strong and was able to down the Aggies twice to win the championship. Both teams headed to the ACHA Division II National Tournament for the third straight year determined to represent the West well. USU delivered by winning their pool, keyed by a 4-2 victory over 1997 runner-up Penn State, before falling to eventual champion Life College in the semi-finals. With a 4th place finish nationally, the Aggies have proven to be a force at the Division II level. Weber State respectably finished 6th, falling to eventual runner-up Indiana in the deciding game of their pool. All five regular season games against Weber State were played in front of full houses, with sellouts occuring at least three days before the games.
The 1999-2000 season proved to be among the most successful in Aggie history, setting records for wins, goals, assists, and points in a season. The Aggies cruised through the regular season with a 22-4-2 record, winning 19 straight games at one point, and captured their second RMCHA crown with a 5-2 win over rival Weber State. They entered the ACHA Division II National Tournament for the fifth straight year as the #2 seed from the West. They dropped the opening season -2 to eventual champion Miami (OH) by giving up a power play goal with 2.3 seconds left. They went on to defeat Central Michigan and Central Connecticut State to finish 5th overall. Nate Anderson was named to the West All-Region team and teammates Ross Keys and Eric Moldenhauer were Honorable Mention.
Throughout the past decade Utah State Hockey has seen it's success and popularity skyrocket. Utah State now competes in the ACHA DII West Division and has made several trips to regionals and nationals during the past ten years. During the 2010-2011 season, the Aggies under Head Coach Jon Eccles finished with an impressive record of 40-7-1 including a trip to nationals in San Jose, California where Utah State competed well against the best D-II teams in the country. At the National Tournament, Utah State won a big game against the University of Maryland Baltimore County, fell in a thriller 4-5 against the University of Michigan, and lost again the next day to eastern powerhouse, Sienna College.
Now for the 2011-2012 season, the Aggies return stronger than ever. The hockey program at Utah State continues to expand and grow in popularity. Because of the success of the program, a majority of current players are now coming from outside of Utah.
The entire community has benefited because of the efforts of those few coffee drinkers, seventeen years ago.
Team Contact: Alys Staten
Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322-1400