03/03/2014 6:11 PM -
It only took 23 weeks of hockey but the 16 teams that will battle it out for a chance to hoist the Thorne Cup have been decided, as the Missoula Maulers, Valencia Flyers and Long Beach Bombers all clinched playoff berths with strong weekends. There’s still some space for movement in the last weekend of the regular season however, so it’s not quite over yet.
Below is a summary of each weekend series/game:
Southern Oregon Spartans (12-30-4, 5th in Northwest Division) @ Missoula Maulers (18-22-4, 4th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Missoula, Montana
Needing just one point to clinch a playoff berth, the Missoula Maulers hosted the one team that could still catch them and ended the Southern Oregon Spartans’ chances quickly, winning game one and continuing on to a sweep to earn the fourth and final playoff spot in the Northwest Division.
Showing more of the fortitude that they have over the last couple of weeks, the Spartans fought back from a 3-0 deficit to tie it in the opener but a late Missoula goal ended their playoff hopes, in a 4-3 loss.
The Maulers were able to get out to a 3-0 lead thanks to a first period marker from Joey Sundgren and two more from Erich Jaeger and Austin Azzinnaro early in the second.
With just 40 seconds left before the buzzer ended the middle period, Austin Sartorius got Southern Oregon on the board and gave the visitors some life heading into the intermission.
Just 8:47 into the third period, the Spartans got within a goal, as Nick Beaune put one home and at 16:46, before Southern Oregon tied it up when Cy Jenson found twine.
Not even a minute later however, Matt Chamberlain gave Missoula the lead back for good and the Maulers held on for the victory, clinching a playoff spot in front of the home crowd.
Cody Janzen stopped 25 of the 28 shots he faced in net, while both Eric Jaeger and Jordan Wheatly, two key veterans that will be relied upon come playoff time, each had two points to lead Missoula.
Jiri Ponikelsky was strong in the Southern Oregon net but wound up taking the loss, allowing four goals on 33 shots.
The game the next night was just as exciting, despite both team not having much to play for, with Southern Oregon’s playoff hopes done and Missoula having no chance of moving out of the fourth spot.
Joey Sundgren turned in another excellent effort, with two goals and an assist and four other Maulers, including Cory Schafer, enjoyed multi-point outings in a 5-3 Missoula win.
Sebastian Gronborg stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced in the win for the Maulers, while Marco Medina allowed five goals on 37 shots in between the pipes in the loss for the Spartans.
Trevor Hillman recorded two points to lead Southern Oregon’s offensive efforts on the night.
The Maulers finished off the sweep with their most dominant performance of the weekend, out-shooting the Spartans 38-19 and notching three power play goals in a 3-1 win.
Joey Sundgren, Max Rebholz and Edward Pollon all scored on the power play for Missoula and Derek Griffin and Joey Porco each notched two assists.
The third Maulers goaltender to earn a victory on the weekend, Michael McDaniel, stopped all but one of the 19 shots he faced.
Nick Beaune recorded the lone goal for the Spartans and Ian Dvorak allowed three goals on 38 shots faced in net.
The Maulers first season of WSHL play started off rather slowly but behind hard work and a reliance on their strong defense and goaltending, they were able to climb out of the cellar and have earned a playoff spot because of it.
They are a feisty bunch that are destined for a trip to McCall to face the division-leading Jr. Steelheads in the opening round of the post-season, a team they played well against despite losing all six regular season match-ups.
They finish the regular season with two more home contests against the Seattle Totems this weekend, where I imagine they’ll rest at least a couple of their big guns.
Southern Oregon traded away a few key players back in January but still pushed hard the rest of the way, with their playoff hopes coming up just short.
In his first season at the helm, Jeremy Bachusz did a great job of instilling a new spirit in his team, adding discipline while still keeping the Spartans one of the toughest teams to play against.
They head into the off-season with a number of players eligible to return and a strong recruiting season could turn them into contenders in the fall.
El Paso Rhinos (41-2-0, 1st in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (6-37-0, 5th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The El Paso Rhinos continued their dominance in 2014 by adding on to their league-best record over the weekend, as they went into Tulsa and pounded the Jr. Oilers over three big victories.
A mismatch for most teams they run up against, the Rhinos completely had their way with the short-benched and struggling Jr. Oilers, shutting out the hosts in all three games and outscoring them 41-0 on the weekend.
The tone was set early on in game one, as El Paso scored two goals 24 seconds apart and never looked back in a 13-0 smashing.
Bryce Fink earned his first shutout victory in a Rhinos uniform, as the former Seattle Totems standout stopped all 15 shots he faced, while all but one El Paso player earned at least a point in the game, including Fink, who had an assist on an Andrew Bradford goal.
Bradford ended up with a game-high five points, while Matthew Plesa and Drew DePalma each had three.
Teke Murphy was bombarded with 69 shots in the Tulsa crease and stopped 56 of them before being pulled late in regulation. Colter Prtichard took over and stopped all three shots he faced in his 2:27 in net.
The score was even more lopsided the next night, as the Plesa brothers combined for 18 points in a 17-0 Rhinos victory.
Matthew led the way with seven, Nick added six and Peter chipped in with five. Adam Vay stopped all 12 shots he faced in net to earn his fourth shutout of the season.
Tulsa’s Colter Pritchard stopped 43 of the 56 shots he faced in nearly two periods of play and Teke Murphy turned away 21 of 25 after taking over late in the second.
Chad Cesarz had three goals and three assists and Bryce Fink stopped all 24 shots he faced in the finale, as the Rhinos completed the sweep behind an 11-0 win.
Dakota Beaulieu and Andrew Bradford each added five points, as well and Kalvis Ozols added four to his league-leading total for defensemen, which now sits at 52 on the season.
Adam Salisbury was strong in the Tulsa net, stopping 50 of the 60 shots he saw, before being pulled late in favor of Teke Murphy, who stopped four of five in just under five minutes of work.
The three blowout wins is what happens when you take a team that is perfect in 2014 and still rising and match them up against a team without a win in 2014 and just looking to get to the off-season.
With predictable results, the Rhinos continue to surge and don’t show any signs of slowing down heading into the playoffs.
They’ll get a dress rehearsal this weekend when they host the Dallas Snipers to complete the regular season, the same team that will come to town the following weekend to open the post-season.
Tulsa continues to try hard with a short bench but can’t get anything going and have just three games left on the docket, as they host the Dallas Ice Jets this weekend.
Colorado Jr. Eagles (25-17-2, 3rd in Mountain Division) @ Dallas Snipers (21-20-2, 4th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Plano, Texas
Playing their second series against one another this season, which is rare for teams that don’t play in the same division, the Dallas Snipers and Colorado Jr. Eagles clashed in the Lone Star State and the first-year Jr. Eagles took two of the three games once again.
Colorado showed no ill effects of the long trip in the opener on Friday night, as they outshot Dallas 51-24 and won 9-5 behind a six-goal second period.
Emil Melin’s goal at 4:00 of the middle frame pulled Dallas even at two but the deadlock didn’t last long, as the Jr. Eagles, who’s offense has come alive thanks to a couple of key additions in recent weeks, rattled off six straight before the end of the period.
Nick Davidson got the rout started with his goal at 12:50, which made it 3-2 at the time and just seven minutes later, Mitch Coan’s power play marker gave Colorado an 8-2 lead.
Davidson added his second of the night early in the third, before Dallas fired back with three of their own, including two off the stick of Justin Becton but it was too little, too late, in a 9-5 Colorado win.
Colorado’s Lance Pennington and Dallas’ Justin Becton led all scorers with four points each, while seven other Colorado skaters recorded a pair of points.
Eric Messer stopped 19 of the 25 shots he faced in net for the win, while Steffen Muller allowed six goals on 31 shots, before being pulled in favor of Emil Eriksson late in the second. Eriksson went on to stop 17 of the 20 shots he faced in relief duty.
The Jr. Eagles jumped out to a 3-1 first period lead the next night and although the game remained much tighter, the Snipers were never able to get even, as Colorado won by a score of 5-3.
Mitch Coan, Tanner Ulland and Luke Galatiuk all tallied in the opening frame for the visitors, while Emil Melin got the Snipers on the board.
Alexander Lehnbom’s power play marker, scored 2:20 into the second period, pulled Dallas to within a goal but Colorado responded with a power play goal of their own, as leading scorer Levi Weber put one home at 9:15.
Melin’s second of the game would get the Snipers back within a goal before the second intermission but Collin Abbitz put it away in the third, as the Colorado forward scored at 8:10 to seal the deal.
Abbitz finished the game with three points to lead the Jr. Eagles, while Quinn Wold stopped 25 of 28 in net for the win.
Emil Melin’s three points led the Snipers in the loss and fellow countryman Emil Eriksson stopped 40 of 45 in net.
After a scoreless opening frame in the finale, the two teams traded goals twice in the second period, with the same guy scoring for each team.
Tyrel Charlton started the scoring for Colorado at 4:21 of the period and added another 17:56.
He was answered nearly a minute later each time by defenseman Luke Grignano of Dallas however, who potted goals at 5:24 and 18:54, to send the game into the third tied-up at two.
A Christopher Stein power play marker at 6:45 of the period would hold up as the game-winner, as the Snipers pulled out the win by a score of 3-2.
Grignano had a hand in all three Dallas goals, with two goals and an assist, while Joshua Soule earned the win in net, stopping all but two of ther 37 shots he faced.
Charlton, Collin Abbitz and Mitch Coan each picked up a pair of points for Colorado, while Eric Messer stopped 23 of 26 in the loss in net.
The two wins lock Colorado into the third spot in the Mountain Division and they’ll open the post-season in either Cheyenne or Phoenix.
They have been playing great team hockey all season and with the recent additions of guys like Abbitz, Coan and Smoot, their offense has been hitting at a higher level and has made them much more dangerous.
They will finish up the regular season with a home-and-home series against the Cheyenne Stampede this weekend, a team they could very well face in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Snipers were right there all weekend but let a couple of bad periods bury them. They did a good job to pick up a win on Sunday however and are now locked into the fourth spot in the Midwest Division.
Just like Colorado, they are likely playing the same team this weekend that they’ll face in the opening round of the playoffs, as they head to El Paso for three with the division-leading Rhinos.
Long Beach Bombers (26-18-0, 4th in Western Division) @ Wichita Jr. Thunder (4-38-1, 6th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Wichita, Kansas
The Long Beach Bombers extended their winning-streak to 11 with a weekend sweep of the Wichita Jr. Thunder and behind a suddenly staunch defense and terrific goaltending, they’ve now earned their first playoff berth in six seasons.
After the second of two Joel Gellvear goals early in the second period pulled Wichita even at three, the Bombers vaunted offense awoke to score the game’s next six goals en route to a 9-3 win in the opener.
Tomas Nemeth led the Bombers attack with a goal and five assists on the night, in his first games back in Wichita since playing for the team early last season, while Martin Vachal, Mikael Lengmo and Marcus Viitanen each added four.
Talon Miller earned the win in net, as the veteran stopped 17 of the 20 shots he faced.
Joel Gellvear and Felix Morin, the two biggest offensive threats for the Jr. Thunder all season, each recorded two points to lead the way, while Jake Larson stopped 52 of 60 in net.
It was never close the next night, as the Bombers built a 3-0 first period lead and added on with six in the second and six more in the third, in a 15-1 beat down.
Mikael Lengmo’s seven points led the Bombers on the night, Nemeth notched another six, while linemate and another former member of the Jr. Thunder, Filip Martinec, added four.
Jakub Krejci got the start in the Long Beach crease and looked strong in his first action since February 9, stopping all but one of the 23 shots he faced.
Alex Smith put home the lone Wichita goal on the night and Jake Larson took the loss in net, allowing five goals on 39 shots, before being pulled for Dakota McDonald, who stopped 28 of 38.
In a feisty finale, the Bombers once again controlled the game throughout and skated off with a 5-1 win, clinching their first playoff berth in six seasons.
Filip Martinec’s four points led the way for Long Beach, while four other players, including Tomas Nemeth, notched two.
Krejci was a little bit busier in net but still earned the win, as the Czech stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced in the win.
Joel Gellvear potted the lone Wichita goal and Jake Larson stopped 51 of 56 in net.
The Bombers did what they had to do on a long road trip against a team they were supposed to beat, as they didn’t slip up, played their game and got the points they needed to earn a playoff spot.
They’ll finish up the regular season with a home-and-home series against the rival San Diego Gulls this weekend.
Locked into the fourth playoff spot in the division, they’ll open the post-season in Fresno against the Monsters, a team that had their way with them this season but this is a much different Bomb squad now.
Still without a win in 2014, Wichita fought hard all weekend and gave it their all on Sunday but fell short once again.
They’ll finish up their regular season with three games on the road against Texas this weekend and look to get some momentum heading in the off-season.
Ontario Avalanche (31-10-4, 2nd in Western Division) @ Fresno Monsters (35-5-3, 1st in Western Division)
Three-game series in Fresno, California
Facing one of their toughest challenges of the season, the Fresno Monsters earned yet another Western Division regular season title, as they held off the rival Ontario Avalanche in what ended up being a four-point weekend for both teams.
In a predictably tight series between the top two teams in the division, two of the three games wound up needing overtime to be decided, with Ontario reigning victorious in each of them.
Getting contributions from their veterans as they have all season long, Conner Osborne and Michael Freeman tallied in the first period of the opener on Friday night to pace the Monsters to a 2-0 lead.
After a scoreless second period, the Avalanche were able to tie it up in the third, thanks to two goals from former Texas sniper Nikita Salnikov.
Just 18 seconds into the first overtime period, Ontario ended it with a goal from leading scorer Antoine Maillard, as they came back to win it 3-2.
Drake Koegel stopped 30 of 32 in net for the Avs to earn the victory, while Austin Piquette stopped 22 of 25 for Fresno in the overtime loss.
In game two, the Monsters were once again able to build a 2-0 first period lead but this time, they never let Ontario get back in it, as they won going away 6-2.
Fresno outshot Ontario 46-14 on the night and got two goals each from Austin Browning and Filip Winkler and one each from Carter Dahl and Evan Ingram.
Jerry Kaukinen faced just 14 shots in the Fresno crease and stopped all but two in the win.
Lubomir Fetkovic and Brett Norman tallied the two Ontario goals, while Daniel Cepila dropped his first game in goal since coming to the Avalanche in early November, allowing six goals on 46 shots.
The Monsters once again outshot the Avalanche heavily in the finale but another comeback got the best of them, as Ontario fought back and won in a shootout.
A power play goal late in the first from Austin Browning and another in the second from Kyle Jelenski had Fresno out to their third 2-0 lead of the weekend but Ontario clawed their way back in.
Two Basil Reynolds goals, scored just 2:33 apart late in the second period, knotted things up and the game eventually went into overtime, after a scoreless third.
After both the four-on-four and three-on-three overtime periods solved nothing, the two teams headed to a rare shootout, so rare, that the officials mistakenly used the old five-man format.
At the end of five-plus shooters, the Fresno Monsters were victorious and poured onto the ice as if they had won but after further review once the game had concluded, the Avalanche were ruled winners, as they led after three shooters, which is now the correct format.
So after some confusion, the scoresheet is now fixed and shows Ontario winning 3-2, with the shootout winner coming from Alexander Roihjert.
Drake Koegel stopped 48 of 50 in net for the win and all three he faced in the shootout for Ontario, while Austin Piquette stopped 19 of 21 and one of three in the shootout for Fresno.
Despite the tough losses, especially Sunday’s, the Monsters still ended up recording four points on the weekend and clinched the top spot in the division once again.
They are playing terrific defensively and are hard to slow down on offense but their goaltending needs to be better in the playoffs.
They are playing disciplined hockey and are poised for a run in the playoffs, where they’ll host the super-talented Long Beach Bombers in two weeks.
In their regular season finale this weekend, they play host to the rival Lake Tahoe Blue and will just need to stay out of penalty trouble to get the job done.
Ontario has been coming on as of late and despite being outshot in each game, managed to pick up two key victories. Although it won’t get them the top spot, they’ve now clinched second and will host the Valencia Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs and now know they can beat the top dog Monsters.
They will finish up the regular season with a single game against the Flyers on Saturday night, the same team they’ll host the following weekend in their first-ever playoff appearance.
Boulder Bison (21-22-0, 4th in Mountain Division) @ Phoenix Knights (29-12-2, 1st in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Chandler, Arizona
Bouncing back nicely after a tough weekend in Long Beach, the Phoenix Knights got back to their winning ways with a sweep of the Boulder Bison, staying just a smidgen ahead of the Cheyenne Stampede for the top spot in the Mountain Division.
Game one was as tight as they come, as the Bison came out hard and actually outshot the hosts 28-24 on the night.
A late second period goal from Ryan McNeely ended up being enough for the game-winner however, as the Knights won by a score of 2-1.
Matt Gamblin tallied the other Phoenix marker, while Casey Riccatone put home the lone goal from Boulder, in what was a tough loss for the Bison.
Alex Taylor stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced in the win for Phoenix, while Colin Champine allowed two goals on 24 shots in the loss for Boulder.
Play opened up a bit more the next night, as the two teams were tied up at two after the opening 20 minutes of play.
A Chad Lopez power play goal early in the second gave the Bison their first lead of the weekend but Phoenix took over shortly thereafter, scoring three straight before the end of the period and locking it down in the third for a 5-3 win.
Ryan McNeely, who has really stepped up his level of play in recent weeks, once again led the Knights with three points on the night, while Kelby Minshull and Brynton MacNab each had two.
Bryce Berthold and his two assists led Boulder, while Casey Riccatone and Charles Joly tallied the other two goals.
Colton Pankiw got the start in the Phoenix crease and was pulled late in the first after allowing two goals and Luke Stripp stopped 15 of 16 to get the win in relief.
Colin Champine took another loss in Boulder’s crease, as the veteran allowed five goals on 32 shots.
As close as the first two games were, the finale was all Phoenix, as the Knights pounded the Bison by a score of 10-2.
Phoenix notched three in the first, six in the second and added another in the third for good measure in the big win and sweep, which keeps them just two points ahead of Cheyenne for the top spot in the division.
It was McNeely leading the way again with six points, Minshull with four and both Max Mahood and Jordan Cullum with three.
Casey Riccatone and Chad Lopez, two of Boulder’s top threats of late, tallied the goals for the Bison in the loss.
Alex Taylor stopped all but two of the 23 shots he faced in the Knights net, while Colin Champine dropped his third game of the weekend for Boulder, allowing four goals on 19 shots, before being pulled in favor of Brandon Yinger early in the second.
The six points are huge for the Knights, as it keeps them just a bit ahead of the surging Stampede and they only need two points over a three-game set against the last-place New Mexico Renegades this weekend to clinch the top spot.
Phoenix’ big guns, including Cullum and Mahood have been quiet as of late but guys like Ryan McNeely have really stepped up to help lead the charge. If some other key players can wake up, they can become scary once again.
Boulder played well in the first two games but didn’t get timely saves, which is rare from Champine and just weren’t in it on Sunday.
They are locked into the fourth spot and will travel to take on either Phoenix or Cheyenne in the opening round, two teams they can more than hang with.
They’ll finish up the regular season with three home games against the Arizona Redhawks this weekend.
New Mexico Renegades (5-37-1, 6th in Mountain Division) @ Cheyenne Stampede (28-14-2, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Cheyenne, Wyoming
The Cheyenne Stampede beat-up on the New Mexico Renegades over the weekend and behind three big wins, now sit just two points behind the first place Phoenix Knights.
The Stampede left their mark early in the opener, as they came out hard and fast and possessed the puck nearly the entire 60 minutes, in an 8-0 win.
Ian Teal and Russell Armbruster each picked up four points in the big win, while Rasmus Hansson stopped all 11 shots he faced in net to earn his first shutout of the season.
Heath Lantz, Filip Oravec, Collin Plitt, Jimmie Kotilainen and Ryan Plessinger each recorded two points for the Stampede, as well.
Austin Borchert stopped 50 of 58 in the New Mexico crease.
Armbruster had another big night in game two, as the veteran forward recorded four points but Maans Gustavsson led the way for Cheyenne with five, in a 9-1 victory.
Sam Mallory stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in net for the win and Jimmie Kotilainen chipped in another three points for the Stampede.
Rasmus Alamaa notched the lone Renegades goal while Austin Borchert stopped 55 of 64 in net.
Armbruster finished up a terrific weekend for himself in the finale, as he notched three goals and two assists to help lead the Stampede to a 9-2 win and series sweep.
Thayne Trumbull, Heath Lantz and Jimmie Kotilainen each notched three points as well, while Sam Mallory stopped 13 of 15 in net.
Rasmus Alamaa and Alex Nau each tallied for New Mexico and Jacob Garvey stopped 63 of 72 in net.
With two games to go, the Stampede have locked up home ice in the opening round of the playoffs but will be gunning for the top spot, as they are just two points back of Phoenix.
If they can win both ends of a home-and-home against Colorado this weekend, they’ll be hoping New Mexico can steal a couple from the Knights.
The likely scenario has the Stampede hosting the same Colorado Jr. Eagles to open the post-season but anything can happen and if the Knights don’t come to play, they the Renegades will be happy to take some points from them.
New Mexico weren’t able to get anything going all weekend and aside from a handful of forwards, they just aren’t able to create much offense.
They finish up their season this weekend against the Phoenix Knights and the Stampede will be rooting for them.
Salt Lake City Moose (31-12-2, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Lake Tahoe Blue (19-21-3, 5th in Western Division)
Three-game series played in South Lake Tahoe, California
The battle for the second spot in the Northwest Division is a two-horse race, as the two Utah teams continue to leap frog one another. Behind a strong weekend sweep over Lake Tahoe, the Salt Lake Moose moved back into the #2 spot for the time being.
Despite being without a few top players they recently traded away, the Blue defended home ice admirably but fell in all three games and are now out of playoff contention.
Once again, the depth of the Moose was on full display in the opener on Friday, as five different players scored goals in a 5-2 victory.
Former Blue forward Adrian Schimdt, Dan Veselovsky, Tyler Keturi, Matthew Morse and Brett Meyer all found twine in the victory and Brad Robertson stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced in net for the Moose.
Edgars Homjakovs and Robert Donovan each scored goals for Lake Tahoe and Troy Turpin stopped 30 of 35 in net.
Both teams scored four power play goals the next night but the Moose were far better at even strength and won by a score of 9-5.
Cole Corson and Cody Rogala each notched two goals, while Daniel Coley’s four assists led the way on the night for Salt Lake City.
Ryan Gasparovic stopped 12 of the 17 shots he faced to earn the win in net.
Lake Tahoe was led by Branislav Kost and his five points in the loss, while Frankie McClendon took the loss in net after coming on in relief of Troy Turpin. The veteran, who hadn’t seen game action in months, allowed five goals on 16 shots.
Tied at one after the opening period of the finale, the Moose notched four goals in the second and held off a late Lake Tahoe surge in a 7-4 win and series sweep.
Jurijs Moiseicenko led Salt Lake with four points and leading scorer Pat Dwyer added three. Brad Robertson turned aside 31 of the 35 shots he faced to pick up the win in net.
Frankie McClendon returned to the Lake Tahoe crease and stopped 37 of 43 in the loss, while Mark DeVaughn and Branislav Kost each had three points.
Salt Lake City now sits just one point ahead of Ogden for the second spot, which is huge for home ice advantage.
The Idaho Jr. Steelheads, who have nothing to gain with the top spot already locked up the top spot in the division, will play a big hand in who gets the second spot, as they play the Moose on Friday and the Mustangs on Saturday.
It’s simple for Salt Lake, win and you get the #2 seed, lose and you’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out where you sit.
The rise of Long Beach has coincided with the fall of Lake Tahoe, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in the short two-year history of the franchise.
They’ll finish up with three games in Fresno this weekend, where they’ll be looking to take a piece out of their bitter rivals before the playoffs.
Dallas Ice Jets (25-15-3, 2nd in Midwest Division) vs. Texas (23-17-3, 3rd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series played Friday in North Richland Hills and Saturday/Sunday in Grapevine, Texas
In another battle for second place, the Dallas Ice Jets and Texas clashed in a rare three-game set between the two teams and it was the Ice Jets strengthening their hold on the #2 spot by taking two of the three contests.
All three of the hard-fought games were decided by just one goal, as the two nearby rivals already looked as though they were playing playoff hockey.
Trailing 4-2 heading into the third period of the opener on Friday night, Texas clawed their way back into the game with power play goals from Michael Brown and Chris Stovall early in the period to knot it up at four.
An Ice Jets veteran responded with two goals of his own near the middle part of the period, as Johnny Henson scored at 10:48 and 13:22, the second of which held up as the game-winner, as Texas scored again late, in a 6-5 Dallas win.
Chris Schutz once again led the Ice Jets offense on the night with five points, while defenseman Bryan Siersma had three assists. Henson, James Bohan and Spencer Roth each collected two points, as well.
Stovall and Brown each recorded two points for Texas, with the other three goals coming from Landyn Howze, Jeremy Quinneville and Eric Lewis.
John Groth stopped 29 of the 34 shots he faced to earn the win for the Ice Jets, while Ryan Mulka allowed two goals on nine shots, before Oliver Eklund took over for him to begin the second period and went on to stop 20 of 24.
Tied up at two after the opening 20 minutes of play the next night, the Ice Jets pulled away in the second and notched three goals, two of which came from Nick Felan to take a 5-2 lead.
Texas came back late and made things interesting but the final ended up 5-4 in favor of Dallas.
Felan finished the game with three goals to lead Dallas, while Luke Simon and Bryan Siersma each had two assists.
Four different Texas skaters scored goals, as they begin to find some depth behind their top forwards like Miguel Caron, as Austin Murray, Anatoly Uspenyev, Eric Lewis and Sebastien Tremblay all found twine in the loss.
Groth picked up another win in the Ice Jets crease and benefitted from a great defensive effort, stopping 15 of the 19 shots he faced, while Ryan Mulka was yanked once again. This time allowing four goals on 19 shots, before Oliver Eklund took over and stopped 20 of 21.
The veteran Eklund bounced back in a big way the next day in the finale, as the Swede stopped all 41 shots he faced in a 1-0 Texas win.
The two teams were scoreless for 55:42 before Sebastien Tremblay converted on the power play from Miguel Caron and Seth Ensor to win the game for Texas and salvage one from the series.
Giving Groth a night off in the Dallas crease was Vladyslav Slyusarchuk and the Czech had one of his best games of the season but it was enough, as he stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced in the loss.
The Ice Jets still aren’t clicking on all cylinders and really need to figure out their power play, which was once one of the league’s best but found a way to pull out two key victories.
They have the scorers, they are playing great defensively and it looks like Groth is settling into a groove, so they can definitely play with anyone.
With a four point lead on Texas for the second spot, all they need is two points in a three-game set against Tulsa this weekend, which shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Once this team figures it all out and Taylor gets them going, which they tend to do in the playoffs, they will be a big threat once again.
Texas will play host to Wichita this weekend and will hope for a miracle and Dallas to get swept by Tulsa. If that happens and Texas wins out, they’d earn home ice.
Likely scenario: Texas will face Dallas in the opening round on the road, with travel not playing any part and the best team having the chance to win.
They have a physical edge over the Ice Jets and if they can find depth scoring and get solid goaltending, it will be a great one to watch.
Ogden Mustangs (30-12-3, 3rd in Northwest Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (38-4-2, 1st in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in McCall, Idaho
Despite having the top spot in the Northwest Division locked up long ago, the Idaho Jr. Steelheads are still right in the thick of the playoff race, as their final two weekends of the regular season consist of four games against the Utah teams, which will decide the second spot and home ice advantage for either Ogden or Salt Lake City.
Playing at home against Ogden this weekend, Idaho split the two games and the second spot will now come down to the last weekend of the regular season, with Idaho playing a single game against both teams.
The Jr. Steelheads needed a late comeback in the opener on Friday to force overtime, before eventually falling in the shootout.
Idaho led 2-1 after 20 minutes of play thanks to goals from Anton Virtanen and Randy Patzner, with Ogden’s goal coming from forward Brody Decker, who’s fresh-back from a trip to Sochi to watch his sister play for Team USA’s women’s hockey.
The Mustangs came out fast and furious in the second and rattled off three straight goals to take a 4-2 lead, with Jimmy Peplinski and Martin Hallin notching their first of the night and Decker adding his second.
Idaho knotted things up in the third however with goals from Jesper Jensen and Francis Desforges to send the game into overtime.
After two five-minute overtime periods solved nothing, the two teams headed to the shootout and Swedish sniper Simon Teodorsson provided the game-winner in Ogden’s first-ever win over Idaho.
Teodorsson finished the game with two points, along with David Clements and Schuyler Seyfert while Decker led all skaters with three.
Anton Virtanen and Victor Carlsson each had a pair to lead Idaho.
Tyler Fallica stopped 35 of the 39 shots he faced in the shootout win for Ogden, while Sean Healy received a rare blemish on his record for Idaho, stopping 34 of 38 but losing in the shootout.
Idaho got back to their winning ways the next night in the kind of low scoring contest they’ve thrived on.
Ben Hull notched the lone goal for either team in the opening period, before Bryan Hodges and Jan Blasko extended it to 3-0 for the Steelies before the end of two.
Ogden would get within two on a power play goal from Jon Mencer in the third but it came with just seconds let on the clock, as Idaho held on for the 3-1 win.
Blasko’s two points led Idaho on the night, while Sean Healy stopped 26 of 27 in net for the win.
Fallica was strong in the Ogden crease but got hit with the loss anyway, allowing three goals on 33 shots.
The win for Ogden is huge, as it gives them a chance to finish second and proves to them that they can beat Idaho, which they had never done before.
They’ll be pulling for Idaho on Friday night against Salt Lake City and if they can win in regulation, Ogden would have chance to gain the second spot with any points on Saturday night.
Idaho played well despite not having much to play for and did well to bounce back on Saturday night and play their kind of lockdown game.
They’ll be hosting Missoula to open the playoffs in two weeks but will have the two games against the Utah teams next weekend. If they win both, Salt Lake City will host Ogden.
San Diego Gulls (8-33-3, 6th in Western Division) vs. Valencia Flyers (26-15-4, 3rd in Western Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Valencia and Saturday in Escondido, California
Needing just one point to clinch a playoff berth for the last three weeks, the Valencia Flyers were finally able to get it done, as they swept a short home-and-home series from San Diego and are now assured of their third straight playoff appearance.
Despite having no shot at the playoffs, the Gulls played hard in Valencia on Friday night and kept it close but the Flyers attack was ultimately too much, as they won 4-3.
Austin Ehrlich got the scoring started with the lone goal of the opening period, before Cole Bohdan tied things up early in the second while on the power play for San Diego.
Blake Aguilar and Aharon Lara, two key players come playoff time for Valencia, tallied later in the second and the Flyers took a 3-1 lead into the third.
Justin Cintas would get the Gulls back within one at 5:11 of the period but the Flyers responded with another from Aguilar at 8:42 to take the two-goal lead back.
Nick Strohmeyer’s goal at 10:10 would make it a one-goal game again but the Gulls were never able to get even, as the Flyers held on for the one-goal win.
Aguilar finished the game with three points to lead the Flyers, while Luke Thompson stopped 23 of the 26 shots he faced in net.
Cintas, Bohdan and Ilya Sakhibgareev each had two points to lead San Diego, while Brody Cavataio stopped 27 of 31 in net.
It was all Flyers the next night in San Diego, as they carried play in a 5-0-shutout win.
Jakob Krananbetter notched a goal and three assists, Austin Ehrlich had a goal and two assists and Adam Papayoanou scored twice for the Flyers, while Mark Becica stopped all 21 shots he faced to earn his fifth shutout of the season.
Brody Cavataio was hung out to dry in net once again and the rookie stopped 38 of 43 in the loss for San Diego.
The Flyers are now locked into the third spot and will face Ontario in the opening round of the playoffs, a team that has had their number as of late.
They will actually conclude their regular season with a home contest on Saturday against the Avalanche and will be looking to gain some confidence in that one.
If they can get their speed game going and play the kind of feisty hockey they have all season, they will be tough to deal with.
San Diego, still winless in 2014, will finish up with a home-and-home against Long Beach.
They’re still playing hard and a number of Craig Carlyle’s rookies have grown tremendously, so expect to see them return to power next season.
HockeyWolf Three Stars of the Week
1. Ryan McNeely (Forward, Phoenix Knights)- With big guns like Mitch Cobby, Jordan Cullum and Mattias Marten slowing down a bit as of late, forward Ryan McNeely has taken his game to another level to help lead the Phoenix Knights’ offense. The Scottsdale native notched four goals and six assists in a weekend sweep of Boulder and now has points in eight straight games.
2. Russell Armbruster (Forward, Cheyenne Stampede)- The Cheyenne Stampede are hot on the heels of the Mountain Division leading Phoenix Knights and the play of captain Russell Armbruster has been a huge part of their success. The feisty forward has rounded out his offensive game this season and now leads the team with 66 points on the season, after a 13-point weekend in a sweep of New Mexico.
3. Tomas Nemeth (Forward, Long Beach Bombers)- Playing some of their best hockey in recent memory, the Long Beach Bombers have rattled off 11 straight wins to clinch a playoff berth. A huge reason for their success all season has been the play of forwards Filip Martinec and Tomas Nemeth, who are currently one-two in league scoring. Playing against his former team this weekend, Nemeth was nearly unstoppable, as the Slovakian forward tallied three goals and 11 assists in three big victories.