After suffering their first two-game losing skid of the season at the hands of the Western Division’s Idaho Junior Steelheads and Phoenix Polar Bears, the El Paso Rhinos were looking to make a statement to start 2010. Sweeping the only team they had not yet swept in the Boulder Bison was as good a statement as any.
Sunday afternoon, El Paso made a five-goal first period stick all game as Rhinos goalie Andrew Duff stopped 34 of 35 Boulder shots and El Paso got its sweep, downing the Bison, 6-1.
Donald Geary provided the bookend goals in the opening frame, scoring the first goal at 5:37 and scoring the fifth short-handed at 17:22.
Ben Henne scored to make it 2-0 at 9:48.
Austin Balko came up with the puck after a scrum at the Boulder crease, firing in the puck for his 20th goal of the season at 11:49 of the first.
Balko’s goal was followed 16 seconds later by Frankie Posillico, who pounced on another loose rebound for his fourth goal since joining the Rhinos a month ago.
Boulder’s Daniel Turgeon scored the only goal of the second period to avert the shutout, but Navarone Copley gave the hosts the last word, scoring with the backhand at 4:49 of the third.
El Paso earns its 35th win of the season, as the Rhinos have put a clamp on the Mid-West Division lead with 70 points. Though mathematically still in the race, both the Bison and Tulsa Rampage would have to win almost all of their games to unseat the three-time defending division champs in El Paso.
The Rhinos are idle next weekend before heading to Tulsa for a three-game series, Jan. 22-24. El Paso returns home to take on the Rampage the next weekend, Jan. 29-31. For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.