<strong>ST. LOUIS—</strong> The Utah State hockey team will face off Monday night against Michigan State for a place in the ACHA Division 2 national championship game, after emerging from Pool D as the champion.
The Aggies won their first pool play game 5-4 over St. Louis Friday.
“They are a very solid team,” Utah State head coach Jon Eccles said. “A lot of people didn’t give them much credit but they really played hard.”
USU fell behind by two goals and did not lead until the third period.
“It was a hard fought game. They didn’t give up and it was a good test for us,” Eccles said.
On Saturday, the Aggies lost for the first time in over a month when Bowling Green University claimed a 6-5 victory. Once again USU fell behind 2-0 and was forced to try and catch up the entire game.
“Bowling Green came out and they wanted to play hard. We didn’t match their intensity or their aggressiveness,” Eccles said. “Everyone felt that we should have played much better and that we just didn’t bring it.”
Sunday afternoon, with St. Louis and Bowling Green eliminated with one win and two losses each, Utah State faced the University of New Hampshire – the winner automatically qualifying for the semifinals.
The Aggies allowed the first goal of the contest but grabbed two in the second period.
New Hampshire tied the game 2-2 early in the third, but USU managed to distance itself 5-3 from UNH before a furious comeback attempt.
The Aggie defense held strong after conceding a goal to make it 5-4, USU then scored an empty net goal in the closing moments to seal the 6-4 victory.
Michigan State emerged as the winner of Pool B. One of Michigan State’s wins during pool play was an overtime victory against Colorado State, one of only five teams to have beaten the Aggies this season.
Eccles was quick to point out the loss to CSU was in November, and that the Aggies beat the Rams twice since that loss and won the season series, 3-1.
“We should be pretty evenly matched,” Eccles said. “We might be the better team but it just depends on which team shows up to play. We’re hoping we come out strong and stay strong until the end.”
The championship game will be played Tuesday night with the winner of Utah State and Michigan State playing against the winner of Illinois State and Grand Valley State.