As the Phoenix Polar Bears scored three first period goals in a seven-minute span and beat the defending Thorne Cup champions, 5-2, Sunday morning.
El Paso wraps up the Western States Hockey League Showcase in Las Vegas, NV, with a 3-1 record against the Western Division, but it will be Sunday’s loss that will stick with the Rhinos most.
The two teams have faced each other seven times in El Paso’s three seasons in the WSHL, and as the Showcase showdown has gone, so have the Thorne Cup Finals.
Phoenix won the very first matchup between the two teams in the 2006 league showcase, 2-1, then swept the Rhinos for the Thorne Cup in March of 2007.
In the 2007-08 season, El Paso won the showcase game, 5-4, then swept the Polar Bears in Phoenix for the league championship.
Sunday morning in Vegas, the Polar Bears took control midway through the first period. A trapping team that plays careful defense to open up its transition game, Phoenix was able to slow El Paso’s hard-skating style, surviving Rhinos defenseman Josh DeLoach’s opening goal to score five straight before El Paso’s Trevor Erickson notched a short-handed goal with under two minutes to play.
Bill Mulligan scored twice in the first period for Phoenix and Keith Clawson, Ben Oskroba and Michael Tougas also tallied.
The Rhinos outshot the Polar Bears, 34-30, but were unable to get untracked against the Phoenix defense.
With a tight Mid-West Division race facing his team the rest of the way, El Paso coach Cory Herman will not look ahead.
“Tulsa’s got as strong a team as they’ve had since we’ve been in the league,” said Herman. “San Antonio and Texas are right there, too. We can’t take anything for granted.
“If we want another (championship) banner we’re going to have to earn it.”
Players will head home for the Holidays and the Rhinos will return to action in the New Year, splitting a weekend series between the Texas Renegades and Dallas Hawks in the DFW Metroplex, Jan. 2-4, before returning home to face the San Antonio Diablos, Jan. 9-11.
For tickets and information, call the Rhinos front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825) or go to the team website, www.elpasorhinos.com.