Just Chirp’n 22

Just Chirp’n #22
January 27, 2010

by Michael Hissam

No time to celebrate; no time to dream.

El Paso’s Rhinos have locked up their fourth consecutive championship of Midwest Division of the Western States Hockey League.  By taking three from the Tulsa Rampage on the road last weekend, the Rhinos know they are in the playoffs.

That three-game victory run over the Oklahoma gang was not a cakewalk for high-scoring El Paso.  Each game resulted in a one-goal victory, the first two of them in shootouts, compliments of Rhino Nick Gualano.  “They made changes:  They had a good goalie (Michael Maczynski), it was tough playing them on that smaller rink,” said El Paso Coach Cory Herman.

Herman wasn’t looking out for blowouts when his team set out for the “Oil Capital of the World.” He knew Tulsa wouldn’t let that happen.  “They have the same work ethic we have.  It’s good to get into real good games such as these which will help us tune up.”  Part of that tune up took place in the first game where El Paso found itself five goals down before scoring the next six – the winner in the second overtime shootout.

He quickly picked up on the current issue facing Tulsa – itself three-and-a-half games back of Boulder:  “They have a chance for second.  They’ll be coming at us.”

In hockey as in any sport, players work to exceed the coach’s expectations.  It’s how they do it – or in this case need to do it going into the playoffs – that has Herman’s chalk talk sessions demanding a bit more attention from the team.  “We got to get better, but we got to stay simple.  Too many guys are trying to do too much.”  That “too much” reference came from the bench boss’s observation that players are holding onto the puck too long, therefore not making the better decision on that frozen surface.  He said he want to see better dumps into the attacking zone instead of the tendency to hang on and carry the puck in.  “We don’t want to get our pockets picked.  We’ll be successful when we get the forecheck going.”

Rhino defenseman Andrew Ketterer described the come-from-five-goals-behind victory as, “Incredible!  It was the biggest comeback I’ve ever been part of!”  He said Captain Austin Balko told the team, down 5-1, during the second intermission, that the Rhinos were not going to lose.  “We stepped up, got three goals in about three minutes to start the third.  I knew we could do it. That tying goal by Nick (Gualano) with four seconds in the game was unbelievable.  To win it in a shootout – all the better!”

For this weekend’s at-home Tulsa tilts, Ketterer added, “We need come out playing hard, score first and use our speed with the more room on our ice than theirs.  Tulsa has confidence.  They know they can compete with us.”

Tulsa’s Rampage may have done one of the better dekes this season, not on the ice, but against Mother Nature.  Owner Julie Wilson reported the team left home Thursday morning about 15 hours early to beat that winter storm which kept El Paso wet.  The meteorological mess had Oklahoma radar looking like a Christmas tree.

Concerning Muczynski, Wilson spoke of a “lucky pickup” based on a suggestion from another Rampage player.   With his 1.94 goals-against average in 10 games, she was not kidding about the kid from New Jersey.

Wilson expressed excitement about this weekend with the Rhinos.  “The top five point leaders and the top three goalies in the division will be out there.  We’ve told our guys they need to play 60 minutes against El Paso.  Any let down, and the Rhinos put it in the back of the net!”

In their quest for second place and a home ice advantage she calculated the Rampage needs to earn at least two points from El Paso this weekend.