The El Paso Rhinos marched in the First Light FCU Sun Bowl Parade Thanksgiving Day, then marched down to the Alamo City Friday for a hard-earned 6-5 overtime win over the San Antonio Diablos.
Down 4-2 in the second period, head coach Cory Herman pulled new goaltender Cooper Frederick for Rhinos veteran Arthur Hollinger.
While El Paso’s other goalie Andrew Duff spends some time up with the Rhinos’ NAHL affiliate, the Topeka Roadrunners, Frederick was sent from Topeka to El Paso to get some games under his belt.
“Frederick had a tough game,” said Herman. “He’s a really good goalie, he just had a rough game, and that happens sometimes.” Understandable in your first start with a new team.
“Artie stepped in and did really well.”
There was no disputing that. Coming in after the Diablos had doubled their lead at 3:36 of the second, Hollinger was beaten by San Antonio’s Wes Landsem less than a minute later while essentially still getting warmed up.
But the Diablos would score no more on Hollinger. And his teammates were beginning to show signs of life.
It would take most of the second period to show up on the scoreboard, but defenseman Drew Montague finally broke through for the Rhinos on the power play, beating San Antonio’s Mike Becker with just 35 seconds left in the period, cutting the Diablos’ lead to two, 5-3.
El Paso edged a little closer as Zach Kohn scored his second of the night on another Rhinos power play to make it 5-4 at 3:55 of the third.
El Paso thought it had made it all the way back when Jeffery Schmudlach was awarded a penalty shot with just 1:09 left in regulation, but his shot missed the target and the Rhinos had to go looking for a miracle with an empty net.
Things almost went the other way as the Diablos took a shot at that empty net, rang it off the post and were then whistled for icing.
With nine seconds left, El Paso won the draw in San Antonio’s end and Eric LaBounty tied the game.
Pounding away in overtime, the Rhinos would not be denied. Hollinger held the home team at bay, and with 51 seconds left before the game went to shootout, Schmudlach earned redemption, nailing the game winner to keep El Paso a perfect 12-0-0 on the road.
“It was a barn burner,” said Rhinos coach Cory Herman. “We were a step off, but the guys battled hard. It’s tough having two weeks off and only getting four good practices in before your first game back from holiday.”
El Paso improved to 18-1-0 and the Rhinos 36 points paces the Mid-West Division of the WSHL. The Diablos drop to 16-5-1, but earned a point by taking the game to overtime, tying San Antonio with Tulsa for second place with 33 points.
The two teams battle again Saturday and Sunday as part of a three-game series that will go a long way toward shaping the division race.
El Paso will return home to face the Texas Renegades at the Sierra Providence Events Center in a weekend series beginning Friday, Dec. 5. For tickets and information, visit the Rhinos website at www.elpasorhinos.com, or call 915.479.PUCK (7825).