The El Paso Rhinos survived a lackluster defensive effort to beat the Colorado Outlaws, 6-3, to take a 1-0 game lead in the best-of-three WSHL Mid-West Division semifinals.
A game Outlaws squad came prepared for playoff hockey. Every goal the home team scored was answered by the visitors through most of the first 40 minutes.
El Paso’s Nick Gualano scored the opening goal on the power play at 5:01 of the first period, but Matt Butler answered just 38 seconds later to tie, and tied is how the game stayed through the rest of the period.
Austin Balko scored to make it 2-1 Rhinos at 5:22 of the second, but again Colorado answered as Nick Ayers beat Arthur Hollinger on the man advantage at 7:44.
David Fegler found a bounce to beat Outlaws goaltender Darius Mack at 7:59 later in the period, but Ayers found the net once more and the defending Thorne Cup champions were beginning to wonder if Colorado was their doppelganger.
But center Tyler Ridgedell slid through the slot with under a minute left in the second period, beating Mack low glove side, and with only 39 seconds left the Outlaws had no time to answer.
A more focused El Paso team scored twice more in the third period as two defensemen, Andrew Ketterer and Mike Bottcher, found the back of the net from the circles to finally ice the game.
The Rhinos can wrap up a third-straight trip to the Mid-West Division championships with a win in Saturday night’s Game Two. Game time is 7:30 p.m. MST.
For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825) or head to the team website, www.elpasorhinos.com.