Despite their initial success, the El Paso Rhinos are leaving Las Vegas unhappy after dropping their final two games of the WSHL Showcase.
Sunday\’s 3-1 loss to old nemesis Phoenix will be something the Rhinos will be mulling over this Holiday season before returning to action in January.
El Paso also lost to the West\’s second place team, the Idaho Junior Steelheads, 2-0, Saturday afternoon in the league\’s annual get-together, held by the Western States Hockey League to showcase its talent to college hockey scouts from across the nation.
The Rhinos will certainly rue their miscues in the opening minutes of the game despite Austin Balko\’s shorthanded strike just over three minutes into the first period, as the defending Thorne Cup champion Polar Bears equalized, then overtook El Paso, scoring twice on the man advantage less than two minutes apart to take the wind out of the Rhino\’s sails.
Phoenix\’s Rick Wozniak scored the equalizer on the power play seconds after Balko\’s strike made him the all-time leading goal scorer in El Paso Rhinos\’ four-season history.
Wozniak\’s goal at 3:16 was followed exactly 1:50 later by teammate D.J.
As the Rhinos pressed for the late equalizer, Mike Dillon put the game away before El Paso could pull Andrew Duff for the extra attacker, scoring with 1:47 remaining in the game.
The Rhinos head home for the Holidays before reconvening in January for the final month and a half of the regular season.
El Paso still leads the Mid-West Division with a 32-4-0 record, and its
64 points still tops the league. The Rhinos even gained ground on second place Boulder in the Mid-West Division standings, as the Bison won their first game at Showcase but dropped their last three and are now 21-12-0 with 42 points.
Interestingly, El Paso will begin the New Year with a three-game homestand against Boulder, the only team in the Mid-West to have beaten the Rhinos this season.
That series runs from Friday, Jan. 8, through Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010, and will go a long way toward deciding who will finish as the top seed in the Mid-West. Should El Paso win all three games and six points on the table and wind up the series with a 28-point division lead, Boulder would have to win virtually every one of their remaining contests with only 15 games and 30 points left to take.
The third place Tulsa Rampage is also still in the hunt, but trails the three-time defending Mid-West Division champion Rhinos by 37 points with a possible 42 points left to win.
For tickets and information, contact the El Paso Rhinos front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.