College hockey • Hobbs leads the Wildcats with 26 goals this season.
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Ogden • Before taking over as coach of the Weber State ice hockey club for the second time, Joe Pfleegor took a long look at the state of the program with which he had once had so much success.
What he saw was a roster in disrepair and once-proud program struggling to win even a handful of games.
Halfway into a season Pfleegor termed a "rebuilding year," the Wildcats appear well on their way to bringing the program back to its previous heights.
Leading the revival is freshman Dax Hobbs, a graduate of Syracuse High, who is first in the American Collegiate Hockey Association's Division II with 26 goals and seventh with 41 points. Pfleegor, who essentially had to rebuild the roster, made bringing a premier forward like Hobbs to Weber one of his top priorities before the season.
"I knew if we could get him on the team, that would be a huge bonus for us," said Pfleegor, who had been familiar with Hobbs after coaching his junior team last year. "When you rebuild a program, you need a strong foundation, and it really starts with having a forward like Dax."
What makes Hobbs special, Pfleegor said, is an uncanny acceleration ability, which immediately gives him an edge over his opponents. But Hobbs doesn't just stand out offensively. His work defensively has led to increased scoring chances on the offensive end.
"A lot of times when you get a goal-scorer like that, they tend to be opportunist," Pfleegor said. "They'll play more in the offensive zone. But with Dax, it's not like that. He plays defense phenomenally well."
Hobbs' contribution not only has manifested itself on the scoreboard, it's energized the rest of the team, particularly the upperclassmen who have suffered through the Wildcats' lean years.
"A lot of players have been with the team for the past three or four years and haven't had success at all," said Hobbs, citing Chris Roberts, Braxton Green and Josh Guidice. "That's frustrating because they're great hockey players. ... It's cool to see the vets try harder because now they have a team to back them up."
The impact Hobbs has had on the program might ripple beyond this year. During Pfleegor's previous run as Weber's coach from 2000 to 2006, the Wildcats competed in Division I. But following Pfleegor's departure, the Wildcats' lack of success forced them to drop into Division II.
Weber is 14-4-2 this season and ranked No. 6 in the American Collegiate Hockey Association Division II West poll. If the Wildcats are able to sustain that success, a move back to Division I could be on the horizon, something Pfleegor hopes to achieve within the next few years.
"Even if it's my senior year, and I only get to play one year of Division I hockey, that would be awesome," said Hobbs, who would risk losing one of his five years of eligibility if the program moved back to Division I. "You'll have went from a program that couldn't win any games to rebuilding it to a winning team to rebuilding it into a Division I team. That would be a pretty cool feeling."