Tyler Basham notched the natural hat trick and Eric Miller scored the decisive goal in shootout as the El Paso Rhinos earned their first win at home over the Idaho Junior Steelheads, 5-4.
Losing to Idaho Wednesday, 5-3, seemed to light a fire under the home side. The Rhinos certainly had more gas in the tank than the visitors in the first 40 minutes of regulation.
El Paso\’s international line for drew first blood as Basham, the Vancouver, BC, native one-timed a pass from Swedish forward Carl Graf at 16:04 of the first period.
First goals in tight series usually mean a great deal for the teams that score them, but Idaho took just 11 seconds to equalize as Filip Kasaly lifted a shot past Rhinos goaltender Trent Caspar from a nearly impossible angle.
Skating away from net and almost parallel with the end line, Kasaly’s shot beat Caspar high to the near post at 16:15.
But Basham wasn’t done, converting another feed from Graf with just 12 seconds left in the opening frame.
Again, the Steelheads answered as team captain Justin Videen wristed a power play shot past Caspar at 13:44.
But Trey Hughes won a power play draw in the Idaho zone and defenseman Chris Wilhite pinged a pass to Basham who was left unattended at the crease. A nifty deke got Steelheads goalie Justyn Kaufer to make a move and Basham pushed his shot in at 16:12.
However, Idaho went to work in the third period while the hosts went to sleep defensively, and the Steelheads scored twice less than two minutes apart to take a 4-3 lead.
Jacob Eisenstat tallied at 4:48 and Vance Bridgman scored at 6:14, silencing the large Events Center crowd.
It would stay quiet for almost the rest of the third period, until referee Mike McCullough whistled Idaho for two big minor penalties, giving El Paso a 5-on-3 power play with 1:33 left in regulation.
The Steelheads were able to skate out from under the first penalty, but seconds later, Hughes rifled a one-timer from Graf past Kaufer to tie the game, 4-4, with 1:12 left on the clock.
The five-minute overtime was eventful as both Caspar and Kaufer made a pair of impressive saves, but nothing would be decided until the fifth of a five-frame shootout.
John Morales and Miller had scored for El Paso and Kasaly tallied for Idaho, but Videen, the fifth shooter, had to score to keep the Steelheads alive.
He fired a low bullet from close range, but Caspar had followed him, move-for-move, and the puck glanced off the goalie\’s paddle to seal the comeback and the win.
The Rhinos improve to 13-1-0 and their 26 points has them a point away from the first place Dallas Ice Jets (13-2-1, 27 points) for the top spot in the Mid-West Division.
The Steelheads, who earn a point for taking the game past regulation, still top the Western States Hockey League\’s Mountain Division at 15-2-2 (32 points).
The rubber match for what is being dubbed the “Turkey Bowl” series will take place Saturday night at the Events Center at 7:30 p.m. MST.
For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos office at 915/479.PUCK (7825). Fans can also order tickets watch the game live for a fee at www.elpasorhinos.com.