Tyler Beasley scored the game-winning goal and the El Paso Rhinos survived a couple of defensive breakdowns to take Game One of the Mid-West Division Finals, 5-3, over the Boulder Bison.
The Bison must win tomorrow’s Game Two to stay alive in the best-of-three series, but did exactly that last season to wrest the Mid-West crown from the Rhinos in El Paso.
The winner of the Mid-West playoff series will host the Thorne Cup Finals next weekend. The Western States Hockey League’s championship series rotates between its West and Mid-West Divisions each season.
Though the visitors never led, El Paso was never able to pull away until Mike Fazio’s empty-net goal at 19:42 of the third period. The Rhinos got key goals from five different players as the teams exchanged scores until Fazio’s strike.
And, befitting a playoff series, the first goal didn’t come until the second period. El Paso centerman Ben Henne was finally able to break through, sweeping in a backhanded shot from his knees in the slot at 2:32 of the first period.
Daniel Turgeon scored in close to even the game less than a minute later, beating Rhinos goalie Trent Caspser at 3:20.
El Paso would answer, as a bad turnover by Boulder led to a bang-bang goal for the home team. After the Bison mishandled the puck, almost passing it to Beasley in their own end, Beasley simply redirected his pass to Posilico, skating in through the slot. Left alone, Posilico found his spot, beating Mathieu LaBerge at 7:33 of the second.
But, in the third period while trying to clear the puck away from the Boulder attack, Casper instead served the puck on a silver platter to one of the Bison’s best, Ryan Gauthier, who wristed his shot into the vacated net just 1:14 into the third frame.
Ryan Harrison answered for the hosts this time, nudging in his goal just over a minute later at 2:33.
This time, though, El Paso was able to answer with another goal to go up 4-2, Posilico’s shot bounced off the net’s frame and straight to Beasley, who solved the hard angle and lanced the rebound past Laberge for the winning goal at 7:56.
Beasley’s two points give him 101 on the season, 27 points more than the next closest player.
Mike Fazio found an opening through the Boulder defense from the other side of the red line to seal Game One for the Rhinos with his empty-netter
The two teams play Game Two Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MST. If necessary, Game Three would be Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. MDT.
The series winner will also represent the Western States Hockey League at the Junior A Tier III National Championship Tournament sponsored by USA Hockey. The champions of each division are invited to attend.
For Rhinos tickets and information, contact the front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to elpasorhinos.com.