CHANDLER, AZ — Matt Tritsch scored a hat trick made exclusively of short-handed goals as the El Paso Rhinos scored in double-digits for the second straight night, downing the Phoenix Knights, 10-1, Saturday.
El Paso (28-7-1, 57 points) moves five points clear of the idle Dallas Ice Jets (24-9-4, 52 points) atop the Western States Hockey League’s Mid-West Conference as it attempts to lay claim to its sixth-straight top seed in as many seasons headed into the Thorne Cup Playoffs.
The top seed has home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. The Thorne Cup Finals will also be held in El Paso this coming March.
After scoring early in Friday night’s 14-2 win over the Knights, it took 16:32 for the Rhinos to land their first blow Saturday, as defensemen Chris Wilhite and Gunner Bjorklund combined to score the goal. Wilhite found himself deep in the Knights’ zone and pinged a perfect pass to Bjorklund who tipped it into the net at far post.
That opened the floodgates, though, as it only took 1:40 to score a second time. Big forward Craig Hanisch spun around three feet off the end line and shot past Phoenix goaltender, Alex Palumbo, to put the visitors up, 2-0, at the first intermission.
Matt Pietrzykowski scored on the power play 59 seconds into the second period, followed by the first two Tritsch goals at 7:28 and 14:38.
John Morales scored unassisted at 17:04 of the period, giving El Paso a 6-0 lead after 40 minutes.
Tritsch opened the third period scoring with his hat trick goal at 1:01 — a laser beam from left circle that beat Palumbo over the shoulder and just under the crossbar. It was followed by another shorthanded goal from Trey Hughes at 5:13.
Czech Republic forward Tomas Stastny powered in a power play goal from the outer edge of the left circle at 10:02.
Kelby Minshull got Phoenix’s only goal on a two-man advantage at 13:48. El Paso goalie, Vince DiCarlo, stopped 23 of 24 Knights’ shots.
Tyler Basham rounded out the scoring at 19:30.
All told, the Rhinos went two-of-three on the power play, and the four shorthanded goals gives them 13 on the season, second only to next weekend’s opponent, the Texas Brahmas.
El Paso will take on the Brahmas in Fort Worth, TX. Friday’s and Saturday’s games will be broadcast live on 600 ESPN El Paso and via the internet at 600ESPNElPaso.com. Fans can also download the RadioPup app for free in the Apple App Store or through the Android Market to stream the game live via their iOS or Android devices.