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03/10/2014 6:09 PM -
The 2013-2014 regular season, which featured an all-time high of 24 teams, began way back in mid-September and just now, in early March, has it come to a close. Continuing the kind of intensity the WSHL has showcased the whole way through, the final weekend of regular season play didn’t disappoint, as each of the 23 teams in action left it all on the ice.
Below is a summary of each weekend series/game:
Wichita Jr. Thunder (4-41-1, 6th in Midwest Division) @ Texas (26-17-3, 3rd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in North Richland Hills, Texas
Having not played outside their home state since early February, Texas was able to finish the regular season strong with a clean sweep of the Wichita Jr. Thunder, earning the third playoff seed in the Midwest Division.
Jr. Thunder goaltender Jake Larson, a rookie who has stood on his head while facing 60, sometimes even 70 shots a night, once again kept his team in the series opener on Friday night, despite Texas outshooting Wichita 70-27.
Ultimately, Texas’ special teams play was just too much to handle, as they scored three power play markers and added two more while short handed, in a 5-4 win.
Felix Morin and Zachary Martin each tallied in the opening frame to pace the host Jr. Thunder to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play and another from Joel Gellvear early in the second extended the lead to three.
Texas came back and pulled within one on consecutive power play goals from Jesse Foskey and Sebastien Tremblay, scored just 1:35 apart and knotted it up late in the period on a short handed goal from leading scorer Miguel Caron.
1:37 into the third, Chris Stovall put home what would eventually be the game-winner and Sebastien Tremblay added his second of the game exactly two minutes later to make it 5-3 in favor of Texas.
Zachary Martin’s second of the night got Wichita back within a goal at 8:47 of the period but they weren’t able to tie it up, as Texas held on for the win.
Sebastien Tremblay finished the game with three points to lead Texas, while Felix Morin did the same for Wichita.
Oliver Eklund picked up the win in net, after once again coming on in relief of starter Ryan Mulka, who allowed three goals on 12 shots. The veteran Eklund entered early in the second period and stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced down the stretch.
Jake Larson was hit with the loss for the Jr. Thunder despite another solid effort, in which he stopped 65 of 70.
After a tight opening game, Texas turned up the heat over the final two contests of the series, blowing away a short-benched Wichita team by a combined 19-2.
On Saturday night, Texas jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead and never looked back in a 10-1 thrashing.
Miguel Caron added a goal and three assists to his team leading point total, while Viktor Brask, Landyn Howze, Austin Murray and Sebastien Tremblay each notched three on the night. Oliver Eklund, who is looking more and more like the likely starter when they open the playoffs this weekend, stopped 24 of 25 in net.
Felix Morin tallied the lone Wichita goal in the loss, while Jake Larson was pulled early in the first, after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Veteran Dakota McDonald took over for him and stopped 33 of 40 in a no-decision.
Finishing things up on Sunday, Texas fell behind after a Carter Suski goal just 1:17 into regulation but roared back to score the game’s next nine goals, including six before the end of the first period, in a 9-1 win.
16 of the 18 Texas skaters recorded at least one point in the victory, with Michael Brown and Seth Ensor leading the way with three each.
Ryan Mulka returned to the crease and picked up the win for Texas, stopping all but one of the 27 shots he faced, while Jake Larson stopped 51 of 60 for Wichita.
Texas finished the season with wins in 12 of their last 15 contests and earned the #3 seed, which puts them on the road (albeit a short one) in the opening round of the playoffs, where they’re set to face the rival Dallas Ice Jets.
Texas struggled against the Ice Jets speed and quickness the last couple of seasons but went an even 3-3-0 against Dallas this season, including 1-2-0 in Grapevine, where the games will be held this weekend.
If they are to be victorious, they will have to wear down the smaller Ice Jets with their size and grind it out in the corners, where their physicality can create mismatches.
They can also afford to play with a little more of an edge than they used against Paul Taylor’s boys, as the Ice Jets power play has struggled mightily this season.
The two differentiating styles, heated rivalry and the fact that travel will not play an issue will make for a very fun series to watch.
Wichita will miss the post-season for the second straight year, as they dropped their final 29 contests of the season.
They have plenty of bright spots, including the fight the team showed down the stretch, even while being outmatched and short-benched and the play of individuals like Jake Larson, Jack McClelland, Felix Morin, Joel Gellvear, Carter Suski and Zachary Martin.
It’s a long off-season and you can expect to see head coach Rob Weingartner on the recruiting trail very soon.
Dallas Ice Jets (28-15-3, 2nd in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (6-40-0, 5th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Needing just one win to lock-up the second spot in the Midwest Division, the Dallas Ice Jets got it and more, as they swept the Tulsa Jr. Oilers and will host an opening round playoff series for the third straight season.
Much like the team that they’ll face in the opening round, nearby rival Texas, the Ice Jets had their way with a short-benched team over the weekend and if not for some great goaltending at the other end, the scores would have been even more lopsided.
The Ice Jets set the tone for the weekend in the opener on Friday night, outshooting the host Jr. Oilers 75-11 and winning by a score of 5-1.
Yannick Aube, a guy Paul Taylor was really looking to get going before the playoffs, scored the only goal of the first period to pace Dallas to a 1-0 lead.
The Ice Jets’ lead was extended to 3-0 early in the second on goals by Matthew Heim and Alex Devillier, before Keiran Spettie got Tulsa on the board with a short handed marker at 6:22.
Veteran forward Johnny Henson would tally one late in the period to give Dallas the three-goal lead back and Aube’s second of the game, scored on the power play late in the third, sealed the victory.
Aube and Heim finished the night with two points each but the Ice Jets were once again led by Chris Schutz, who notched three assists in the victory.
Vladyslav Slyusarchuk picked up the win in net, facing just 11 shots and stopping all but one of them.
Adam Salisbury was strong in between the pipes for Tulsa and gave his team a fighting chance, stopping 70 of the 75 shots he saw.
It was the same score the next night as well, as the Ice Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead and cruised to a 5-1 victory.
Johnny Henson led the way with a goal and three assists and leading scorer Chris Schutz picked up three points for the second straight game. Tyler Hough, seeing his first action since an injury halted his season in late January, stopped 14 of 15 to get the win in net.
Sawyer Dixon scored the lone Tulsa goal in the loss, while former Ice Jet Teke Murphy allowed five goals on 61 shots in net.
The Ice Jets turned it up in the finale and ended the regular season in a big way, blasting Tulsa 11-0.
Byron Carlisle had four assists to lead Dallas, while Ryan Cutter, Alex Devillier, Nick Felan and Dmitry Kuznetsov each collected three in the win.
Looking like he’s back to full health, Tyler Hough stopped all 17 shots he faced to pick up his third shutout of the season.
The third Tulsa netminder of the weekend, Colter Pritchard, was strong but still took the loss, stopping 74 of the 85 shots he faced.
Despite having his youngest roster in the short history of the team, Paul Taylor was still able to guide the Ice Jets through some ups and downs and they will host Texas to open the playoffs this weekend.
They are 3-3-0 overall and 2-1-0 at home against their rivals and are usually able to pick up wins because of their speed and skill, which matches up well against a bigger, more physical Texas team.
With Hough back in net and looking strong, Taylor will turn to some depth forwards to help Chris Schutz carry the load, as if guys like Aube, Henson, Devillier and Felan can get hot, the Ice Jets could find themselves in their third consecutive Thorne Cup, which would be unheard of for a team in just their third season in the league.
After surprising everyone and making the playoffs in their first season in the league last year, Tulsa had a rough year two, as a coaching change, a ton of roster moves and a tough second half was just too much to overcome.
Marty Magers did a good job of getting his boys ready to go down the stretch and they battled hard for him but they ended up dropping their last 25 games and will look to the off-season to rebuild.
Lake Tahoe Blue (19-24-3, 5th in Western Division) @ Fresno Monsters (37-5-4, 1st in Western Division)
Three-game series in Fresno, California
Seeking revenge against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season, the Fresno Monsters wrapped up another Western Division regular season title with a dominant performance over a three-game sweep of the Lake Tahoe Blue.
Playing against a Blue squad that traded away a number of players and have been playing with a “bare bones’” roster for the last few weeks, the Monsters showed no mercy, never taking their foot off the pedal in three big victories.
It was all Monsters, all the time, in the opener, as Fresno jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead and only turned it up down the stretch, winning by a score of 11-0.
Veteran forward Mike Fabie led the way with five points, while Corey Sikich and Jacob Haynes each added three. Jerry Kaukinen stopped all 19 shots he faced in net to earn his second shutout of the season.
Troy Turpin got the start in net for Lake Tahoe and was pulled after allowing seven goals on 31 shots, while taking the loss. Jakub Novotny came on in relief and stopped 30 of 34 in a no-decision for himself.
Skating with just nine skaters the next night, a handful of which earned an automatic suspension from a line brawl the night before, the Blue had trouble keeping up with the Monsters and fell by a score of 18-3.
Leading scorer Mike Nolan notched four goals and four assists to lead Fresno, while Jacob Haynes added four goals and two assists. Corey Sikich, Filip Winkler and Nico Wilton also enjoyed big nights, with four points each.
Austin Piquette faced just 13 shots in goal for Fresno and stopped all but three of them, each of which came off the stick of Lake Tahoe defenseman Jack Norling, who scored his first hat-trick of the season.
Frankie McClendon got the start in net for Lake Tahoe and was pulled after allowing nine goals on 27 shots, before Troy Turpin took over and stopped 38 of 49.
In a much more subdued finale, at least in terms of penalty minutes, the Monsters finished out the regular season with another big win, besting Lake Tahoe 13-2.
Filip Winkler led the way with six points, Evan Ingram added five and Mike Fabie acquired four, while Jerry Kaukinen stopped 23 of 25 for the win in net.
Kyle Blondin and Jonathon Robinson each had a goal and an assist for Lake Tahoe, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in the short two-year history of the franchise, while Troy Turpin did well to stop 70 of 83 in net.
Before you point out that Fresno ran up the score and didn’t shown any sportsmanship, let me remind you that these are, in fact, kids, all of whom have great memories.
Fresno just happens to have one of the more veteran-heavy lineups in the league and I guarantee you they remember this time one year ago, when the then Bay Area Seals came into their building and knocked the Monsters out of the playoffs.
The two teams are bitter rivals and the Monsters jumped on a wounded team. Had this series been played a couple of weeks back, maybe they would have pulled back a bit but ask any coach and they’ll tell you that you don’t want your team to slow down the week before the post-season, as that’s when injuries, bad habits and other things detrimental to a team tend to occur.
There’s a reason the Monsters are perennially at the top of their division and it’s because they play hockey hard and fast and don’t give up until the final buzzer.
Bryce Dale has a team that is not only loaded with talent but also one that is playing much better team-oriented hockey than they have the last couple of seasons, so don’t expect a playoff letdown once again.
They’ll open up this weekend against the super talented Long Beach Bombers in a series that will come down to defense and goaltending, as both teams can score in bunches.
The first season in Lake Tahoe was a good one for the Blue, as they assimilated into the community and did a good job of putting a quality product on the ice but it’s possible they made too many roster moves and wound up hurting team chemistry.
Whatever the case, they continue to be a strong member of the Western Division and have another summer of recruiting to look forward to, where Chris Collins always seems to find a number of big-time players.
Phoenix Knights 32-12-2, 1st in Mountain Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (5-38-1, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Holding the top spot in the Mountain Division for the majority of the year, the Phoenix Knights finished up a fantastic first campaign under Tyler Ramsey with a sweep of the New Mexico Renegades, securing home-ice throughout the divisional playoffs.
Phoenix was able to get all of their big guns in on the action over the weekend, including a couple that have cooled off in recent weeks, which is big for them heading into the playoffs.
The Knights took control of the series early in the opener, scoring six times in the first period and continuing on to a 15-3 win.
Brynton MacNab led the way with four points, while Brayden Cooper, Ryan McNeely, Robert Smith, Mattias Marten and Trent Boschman each had three.
Max Mahood, Mitch Cobby and Jordan Cullum, three of the guys that can get hot again in a hurry, each added two points, as well.
Two of the Renegades top contributors got on the board for New Mexico, as Zach Comfort scored twice and Rasmus Alamaa added the other.
Colton Pankiw stopped 11 of 14 to earn the win in Phoenix’ net, while Austin Borchert stopped 41 of 56 in the loss for New Mexico.
Leading just 2-1 after 20 minutes of play in game two, the Knights turned up the heat over the final two periods and cruised to a 9-1 victory.
Jordan Cullum, Ryan McNeely and Kelby Minshull each notched three points to lead the Knights, while Luke Stripp stopped 17 of 18 in net.
AJ Mussfeldt tallied the lone New Mexico goal in the loss, while Austin Borchert stopped 53 of 62 in net.
Ryan McNeely, who has been nearly unstoppable as of late, again led the Knights in the finale, as the forward notched five points in a 12-1 Phoenix win.
Max Mahood, Jordan Cullum and Kelby Minshull each added four points, while Alex Taylor stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced in net.
Ryan Meyer picked up the lone New Mexico goal, while Austin Borchert allowed 12 goals on 70 shots.
The Knights slowed down considerably in the second half of the season but picked it back up when they had to and outlasted the Cheyenne Stampede for the top spot in the division.
When they get everything working, they’re as hard to play against as anyone in the league and have an offense that is absolutely lethal.
Phoenix will open the playoffs at home against the Boulder Bison this weekend, a team they swept just two weeks back and are 5-1-0 against this season.
Steve Harrison’s first season at the helm of the Renegades was a tough one but the veteran coach did an admirable job of changing the team’s culture and the way players go about their business.
He worked hard to get his team on the right track and they played really well for him down the stretch, despite being at the bottom of the division.
This off-season will be a big one for them, as with the teams around them only getting better, the Renegades will have to recruit hard to bring some top talent to Rio Rancho.
Arizona Redhawks (12-30-4, 5th in Mountain Division) @ Boulder Bison (24-22-0, 4th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Superior, Colorado
The Boulder Bison will travel to Phoenix to clash with the Knights in the opening round of the playoffs next weekend but first had to welcome in the other Phoenix-area team to conclude the regular season, as they clashed with the Arizona Redhawks.
The Bison, who have had their woes this season with a young roster and tons of injuries, controlled play in all three games against the Redhawks and won each going away, ending the regular season with a sweep.
Alejandro Ochoa, a huge deadline addition for the Bison, notched five points in the opener to help lead Boulder to a 10-1 victory.
Ochoa picked up a goal and four assists, while Will Neff and Daniel Orsborn each chipped in with four points to help a Bison offense oozing with skill but still finding its way. Colin Champine, who is just now starting to look fully healthy after missing a good amount of time due to injury, stopped 17 of 18 to pick up the win in net.
Jonas Almgrund scored the only goal in the loss for Arizona, while Troy Anderson stopped 34 of 44 in net.
It was all Bison again the next day, as they jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead and never looked back in a 9-0 shutout.
Ochoa notched four points to lead the way yet again, as did Walker Harris and Chad Lopez, the latter of th two scoring three goals.
Charles Joly and Nick Kuhn each added three points, while Champine stopped all 16 shots he faced in net, earning his second shutout of the season.
David Deadman was hit with the loss in net for Arizona, as he allowed nine goals on 45 shots.
Finishing the regular season with another shutout win, the Bison dictated play throughout against a tired Redhawks squad and won by a score of 7-0.
Walker Harris led the way with three points, while Chad Lopez, Thomas Jarman, Greg Sodbinow and Max Ledyankin each had two.
Brandon Yinger stopped all 18 shots he faced in net for Boulder, while Troy Anerson stopped 29 of 36 for Arizona.
The three wins are big for Boulder’s confidence and shows how dominant they can be when they get depth scoring and solid goaltending.
Playing against a team they were 1-5-0 against in the regular season, the Bison will be playing with a big chip on their shoulder. If guys like Ochoa, Lopez, Joly and Neff can keep up with Phoenix’ top forwards, the series could come down to goaltending and if Champine is truly healthy, the Bison might have the edge.
Arizona was on the playoff bubble for most of the first half but trading away a number of key players down the stretch signaled the start of the rebuild and they acquired some key pieces they’d like to hold on to going forward.
The Redhawks have plenty of talent in their own backyard but will have to battle with Phoenix to recruit these players, so Rob Powell will be putting work in almost immediately.
Dallas Snipers (21-23-2, 4th in Midwest Division) @ El Paso Rhinos (44-2-0, 1st in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in El Paso, Texas
In a preview of their opening round playoff series next weekend, the Dallas Snipers traveled to El Paso to face the top ranked Rhinos and were swept over three games, as Cory Herman’s crew stayed perfect in 2014. The two teams will be right back at it again this weekend, with the intensity ramped up a bit.
The Snipers showed no fear in the opener on Friday night, as they came out fast and hard and actually outshot the Rhinos 16-10 in the opening frame.
El Paso got the only two goals of the period however, as Krisztian Nagy and Chad Cesarz both beat Snipers goaltender Joshua Soule to pace the Rhinos to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
After a slow start to the game, the Rhinos pulled away over the final two periods, outshooting Dallas 41-8 and cruising to a 16-1 win.
Tom Bartel, David Nelson, Kalvis Ozols and Jiri Pestuka each notched four points to lead the way, while Peter, Matthew and Nick Plesa each added three.
Adam Vay was strong during the first period onslaught but saw high workload in the El Paso crease lighten as the game went along, stopping 23 of 24 overall in the win.
Veteran forward Aaron Krominga tallied the lone goal for Dallas, while Joshua Soule took the loss in net, stopping 22 of 31 before being pulled in favor of Emil Eriksson, who went on to stop 13 of 20.
Things were much tighter the next night, as the Snipers proved they can hang with the Rhinos, despite being outshot 39-19.
A Shane Bonds power play marker was the only goal of the opening period, as the Snipers took a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
Over the final 40 minutes however, it was all Rhinos and more precisely, all Matthew Plesa, as the Alberta native scored four times in a 4-1 El Paso win.
Plesa knotted things up with a short handed goal at 7:59 of the second period and gave the Rhinos the lead for good at 14:45, with assists going to his two brothers.
He then scored on the power play 26 seconds into the third and finished it off with another power play goal at 6:21.
Bryce Fink stopped 18 of the 19 shots he faced in the El Paso crease, while Emil Eriksson allowed four goals on 39 shots for Dallas.
“Plesa” was all over the scoresheet again in the finale but this time it was the youngest brother, Peter, leading the way with six points, while Nick added five and Matthew rounded it out with three, in a 12-0 El Paso victory.
Adam Vay stopped all 27 shots he faced in net, earning his fifth shutout of the season, while Steffen Muller took the loss for Dallas in a short outing, allowing two goals on three shots, before being pulled just 4:42 into regulation.
Joshua Soule then took over and stopped 25 of 35 in a no-decision.
The three wins for El Paso locked up a regular season league title, with a record of 44-2-0, with their only two losses coming at a neutral site in Las Vegas, Nevada, during the 2013 Western States Shootout.
Behind the Plesa line, which has been nearly unstoppable, a number of key additions, including Drew DePalma, Eric Baldwin and Kalvis Ozols from San Diego, a stifling defense and solid goaltending tandem, the Rhinos went 24-0-0 down the stretch and head into the playoffs as the odds-on favorite.
The only question that remains, is if they’ll lose their motivation in the divisional round, as they’re guaranteed a spot in the Thorne Cup already but knowing Cory Herman, there’s no chance he’ll allow that to happen.
A perfect 6-0-0 this season against their first round playoff opponent, the Rhinos will welcome the Snipers back in this weekend.
Dallas played well early in games one and two but the Rhinos are just too deep and were able to pull away in each game.
If they can keep their heads and take advantage of the power play chances they get, the Snipers have enough talent to stick with the Rhinos and can certainly match their physicality. They’ll need one of their goaltenders, whoever gets the nod, to match the play of either Vay or Fink for El Paso and that will be a tall task.
They were winless in six chances against the Rhinos but played them better than anyone in the division and will be playing with nothing to lose this weekend, which makes them very dangerous.
Seattle Totems (11-31-4, 6th in Northwest Division) @ Missoula Maulers (20-22-4, 4th in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Missoula, Montana
The Missoula Maulers came on late in their first WSHL campaign and wrapped-up the regular season with two solid victories over the Seattle Totems in front of a rowdy home crowd.
Destined for a first round playoff series on the road against the three-time defending champs, Missoula used the two games against Seattle as a dress rehearsal, as they showcased their disciplined defensive style and won both games with timely scoring.
Forward Edward Pollon notched a hat-trick in the opener on Friday, all three of which came off assists from Josh Chamerblain, as the Maulers won by a score of 5-1.
Pollon opened up the scoring 7:05 into regulation and after Max Rebholz made it 2-0 in favor of Missoula just 1:28 later, Pollon notched his second just 59 seconds after that, making it 3-0 at the time.
Nikolay Mamadzhanov would get the Totems within two before the end of the period but Pollon converted on the power play 3:20 into the second and Nikita Sheptytskyy did the same at 8:19 to make it 5-1, as Missoula was able to lock it down and hold on for the win.
Michael McDaniel stopped six of the seven shots he faced in just over a period of play and earned the win, before Cody Janzen came on in relief and stopped 20 of 20.
Cody Stein got the start in Mike Murphy’s crease and allowed three goals on 14 shots, before being pulled in favor of Eli Alyakin, who stopped 36 of 38 in nearly 50 minutes of game time.
Tyler Zandhuisen and Austin Azzinnaro each collected three points the next night and helped Missoula finish their first WSHL regular season with a 6-2 win.
Josh Chamberlain and Nikita Sheptytskyy each added a pair of points, while Sebastian Gronborg picked up the win in net, stopping 20 of 22, before giving way to Cody Janzen late in regulation, presumably to give the veteran a send-off in front of the home crowd.
Marek Nemec scored both goals in the loss for Seattle, while Eli Alyakin stopped 43 of 49 in net.
Missoula’s season started slowly and they struggled offensively at times but they stuck with their defensive system and it proved to be a winner, as they won their last five games of the season and head to Idaho with tons of confidence.
They are 0-6-0 against the Steelies this season but have played well against the top team in the division, as Idaho plays a similar defensive style. If Marcus Baxter can get guys like Cory Schafer and Anders Nord going and get big saves in net from one of their three solid netminders, they could steal a game or two.
Seattle’s season also started slowly but with a short bench and rash of injuries, they were never able to recover.
Mike Murphy held out hope as long as he could but the trade of goaltender Bryce Fink a few weeks back signaled the end of the fight, as the Totems will look to build for the fall.
Like many teams, Seattle will be need a big summer of recruiting, which Murphy will start working on now.
Colorado Jr. Eagles (27-17-2, 3rd in Mountain Division) vs. Cheyenne Stampede (28-16-2, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Fort Collins, Colorado and Saturday in Cheyenne, Wyoming
In another series that mimics an opening round playoff match-up, the Colorado Jr. Eagles and Cheyenne Stampede met in this past weekend and it was the first-year Eagles taking both games of the home-and-home set from the second-seeded Stampede, who will host the series this weekend.
Bolstered by a number of key players they acquired at the trade deadline, Colorado’s offense has really stepped up as of late and has them playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Playing at home on Friday night, it was the defense and goaltending that were on full display however, as the Jr. Eagles got goals from Tyrel Charlton and Collin Abitz in a 2-0 victory.
In an evenly played game, the two teams were scoreless for over 46 minutes of play, before Charlton, acquired just before the showcase in December, got the Jr. Eagles on the board and Abitz, picked-up at the trade deadline, put one into the empty net late.
Quinn Wold stopped all 35 shots he faced in the Colorado net to earn his second shutout of the season, while Fredrik Radbjer stopped 35 of 36 in the loss for Cheyenne, while giving normal starter Rasmus Hansson the night off.
Both offenses picked up the pace in Cheyenne the next night but behind another great effort from Abitz, the Jr. Eagles won by a score of 5-3.
Ben Gundry notched the lone goal for either team in the opening period to give the Jr. Eagles a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes of play but Alexander Andersson, who has been red-hot lately for Cheyenne, knotted it up early in the second.
Just 42 seconds after the Stampede tied it up, Scott Smoot, another one of the key additions, gave the Jr. Eagles the lead back with his goal at 4:10 but 37 seconds after that, Andersson’s second of the night tied it up once again.
Collin Abitz’ goal at 11:22 of the period would give Colorado the lead for good however, making it 3-2 at the time, before Jackson Wallis extended it to 4-2 just a few minutes later.
Abitz notched his second of the game 5:41 into the third and Branko Oktavec would pull the Stampede back within two at 10:53 but they would get no closer in the two-goal loss.
Smoot, Mitch Coan and Nick Davidson each added two points in the win for Colorado, while Eric Messer, acquired from Tulsa back in January, stopped 26 of 29 in net.
Andersson finished the game with three points to lead Cheyenne, while Oktavec and Maans Gustavsson each collected a pair of points. Rasmus Hansson was pulled after allowing five goals on 29 shots and took the loss, while Sam Mallory, who has been steady down the stretch, stopped all five shots he faced in relief.
The two wins are huge for Colorado, as they’ll head right back to Cheyenne to open the post-season this weekend and they have to be oozing with confidence, as their young players showed no fear or jitters against a strong opponent, who they finished the regular season 4-1-1 against.
With their new offensive weapons combined with guys like Levi Weber and Kyle Arenson that have been doing it all season, the Jr. Eagles will be very tough to slow down.
Cheyenne still has home ice, which is a huge-advantage throughout a weekend of games and will be looking to avenge early playoff exits in each of the last two seasons.
The team they’ve assembled this year is the strongest we’ve seen from them but they must find a way to slow down Colorado’s big guns and help out whichever goaltender gets the start and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mallory in there, with his experience being key.
Expect to see a fast, physical series between two teams that have quickly become bitter rivals. If the Stampede can use the home crowd and stay out of the box, they’ll have a great chance to move on.
San Diego Gulls (8-35-3, 6th in Western Division) vs. Long Beach Bombers (28-18-0, 4th in Western Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Lakewood and Saturday in Escondido, California
The Long Beach Bombers concluded their regular season with two wins over the rival San Diego Gulls this weekend and will head into the playoffs having won 13 straight games.
The defensive troubles that plagued them over the first half of the season have suddenly vanished and Chris White has his team playing the best hockey we’ve seen out of them in years.
With victories of 8-1 and 5-1 over the Gulls, the Bombers wound up allowing just four goals against over their last four games, a huge plus for a team that couldn’t keep the puck out of their net early in the season.
Playing at home on Friday night, the Bombers started off hot and cruised the rest of the way, scoring six first period goals in an 8-1 win.
Marcus Viitanen led the way with four points on the night, while Johan Beatty, Blake Sundy and Martin Vachal each added three.
Talon Miller stopped 32 of the 33 shots he faced to earn his seventh straight victory in net, while Filip Lukac allowed eight goals on 54 shots in net for San Diego.
Making the trip just an hour or so south he next night, the Bombers got another solid effort in goal, as Jakub Krejci stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced in a 5-1 Long Beach win.
Filip Martinec ended the season just the way he started it; scoring goals, as the Bombers’ leading scorer finished with three goals and an assist, which gave him 109 on the season and the league scoring title.
Marcus Viitanen and Martin Vachal each added three points and Tomas Nemeth, who finished second to his linemate with 104 points on the season, had two assists.
Kyle Rimbach notched the lone San Diego goal, while Brody Cavataio stopped 34 of 39 in net.
A couple of roster moves, including the acquisition of Martin Vachal, has made the Bombers already solid offense even scarier and when you put that together with defense and goaltending, it makes for a team nobody wants to see come playoff time.
It took them a while to figure it all out but now that they have, they are playing with tons of confidence and can hang with any team the league has to offer.
They went winless over their six meetings with the top-seeded Monsters this season but this is a completely different team now and will head to Fresno looking for the upset.
San Diego had their first off-year in a quite some time and Craig Carlyle did the best he could to get his young roster to play at a high level but the growing pains were just too much to overcome.
There are plenty of bright spots however, including like the play of Kyle Rimbach, Michael Leone and Brody Cavataio, all of whom are still very green and if Carlyle can bring in some talented players this summer, the Gulls will be right back in the thick of things in the fall.
Idaho Jr. Steelheads (39-5-2, 1st in Northwest Division) @ Salt Lake City Moose (31-13-2, 3rd in Northwest Division)
Single game played Friday in West Valley City, Utah
Looking to clinch second place in the Northwest Division and earn home ice in the opening round of the playoffs, the Salt Lake City Moose faced-off against the division leading Idaho Jr. Steelheads on Friday night but came up short, losing 4-2 and were forced to wait until the next night to find out their fate.
Playing for nothing other than pride with the top spot in the division wrapped up long ago, Idaho came out hard to open the contest and jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, on goals by Dak Dice, Nick White and Kyle Williams.
6:22 into the second, Bryan Hodges extended the Jr. Steelheads lead to four, before the Moose fought back with two of their own before the end of the middle frame, as Dylan Canoy converted on the power play and Cole Corson tallied at even strength just 39 seconds later.
Trailing by two entering the third, the Moose put it all on the line and pushed hard but Idaho didn’t budge and held on for the win.
Hodges finished the game with three points to lead the Steelies, while Danny Kowalski was solid in net, stopping 31 of the 33 shots he faced.
Brad Robertson took a rare loss in net for the Moose, as he allowed four goals on 34 shots.
Ogden Mustangs (31-12-3, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads
Single game played Saturday in McCall, Idaho
Idaho traveled just down the road to Ogden the next night and needing just a point to jump ahead of Salt Lake City, the host Mustangs got the win and will open the playoffs at home against the rival Moose this weekend.
Leading 2-1 after one period of play, thanks to goals from Simon Teodorsson and Tommy Pokorney, the Mustangs, or rather Jimmy Peplinski, blew the game wide open in the second, as the hulking forward notched a natural hat-trick and made it 5-1 in favor of Ogden.
Dak Dice would get Idaho within three with a goal late in the period but neither team found twine in the third, as the Mustangs got the huge win and will be able to play in front of a rowdy home crowd in the playoffs.
Peplinski and David Clements, who notched three assists, led the Mustangs attack on the night, while Tyler Fallica stopped 36 of the 38 shots he faced in net.
Dak Dice led Idaho with a goal and added an assist on the marker by Victor Carlsson, while Sean Healy added a rare blemish to his pristine goaltending record, taking the loss while allowing five goals on 26 shots.
One of the more evenly matched 2/3 series you’ll see, any advantage is huge and the fact that the Mustangs will play on home ice against their nearby rival is monumental.
The Mustangs finished the season with a record of 3-2-1 against the Moose and seem to have a physical edge over their opponent, while Salt Lake City has a little more speed and depth.
Travel won’t be an issue for Salt Lake City, so this series will really come down to who the better hockey team is and should be a battle for the ages.
Idaho’s loss doesn’t bother them too much, although both Salt Lake and Ogden have beaten them this season, so they know they can’t take any shifts off in the playoffs.
The three-time defending champions have been playing a strong defensive game all year and will open the post-season at home against Missoula, who they went a perfect 6-0-0 against in the regular season.
Ontario Avalanche (32-11-3, 2nd in Western Division) @ Valencia Flyers (27-15-4, 3rd in Western Division)
Single game played Saturday in Valencia, California
In yet another 2/3 playoff match-up between local rivals, the Valencia Flyers will travel to Ontario to take on the second-seeded Avalanche this weekend, the same team they hosted to finish out the regular season on Saturday night.
Forward Adam Papayoanou assisted on a Flyers goal in each period, two by Blake Aguilar and another by Jared Waldman and the Flyers held on to win 3-1 behind a 25-save effort from Luke Thompson.
The Flyers opened up with the lone goal of the first period, coming off the stick of the rookie Waldman, before Aguilar added one in both the second and third. Basil Reynolds notched the lone Ontario goal early in the third period, which pulled the Avs within one at the time but they wouldn’t get any closer in the loss.
Daniel Cepila allowed three goals on 34 shots in Ontario’s crease and took his second straight loss, after winning 12 straight previously.
The two evenly matched opponents will open things up Friday in Ontario, in what should be a very exciting match-up of two hungry teams.
The Avs have the advantage in experience and have a number of veterans that are hot but the Flyers are as tenacious as they come and their young players haven’t looked out of place all season.
The two teams split the six regular season meetings right down the middle.
HockeyWolf Three Stars of the Week
1. Matthew Plesa (Forward, El Paso Rhinos)- Helping El Paso finish the regular season with a near flawless record of 44-2-0, forward Matthew Plesa had his way with the Dallas Snipers defense and goaltenders. Playing on a line with siblings Nick and Peter, the middle brother notched seven goals and three assists in a sweep of the Snipers, the same team the Rhinos will host to open the playoffs this weekend.
2. Jimmy Peplinski (Forward, Ogden Mustangs)- Needing anything other than a regulation loss against the top-seeded Idaho Jr. Steelheads on Saturday night to clinch second place in the division, the Ogden Mustangs needed someone to step up and rugged forward Jimmy Peplinski answered the call. With his team holding a slim 2-1 lead early in the second period, the former NAHLer took control of the game, notching a natural hat trick to extend the lead to 5-1 and helping his team continue on to victory. The victory means that Ogden will host nearby rival Salt Lake City to open the post-season this weekend.
3. Collin Abitz (Forward, Colorado Jr. Eagles)- The first-year Colorado Jr. Eagles have been playing solid hockey all season but have taken their game to another level recently, as their offense has been bolstered by a handful of new additions. One of those trade deadline pick-ups is forward Collin Abitz, who has notched 12 points in just seven games since coming to the team, including three goals and an assist in a sweep of a home-and-home series against the Cheyenne Stampede this past weekend. The two wins should provide a huge confidence boost for Colorado, as they’ll be right back in Cheyenne this weekend to open the playoffs against the second-seeded Stampede.