There was no shutout for Andrew Duff this time, but the El Paso Rhinos did get another win, 7-2, beating the San Antonio Diablos for their 27th win against just three losses.
Nick Gualano scored twice to open the first and second period, earning First Star of the Game honors for an extremely productive weekend. Gualano scored five goals over the three-game series and leads the Western States Hockey League with 32.
As for Duff – who’s working himself back into shape as El Paso gets ready for the WSHL Showcase in Las Vegas, NV – four shutouts in the six straight games the Rhinos and Diablos have played against each other can probably be termed “mission accomplished”.
Two power play goals by the Diablos ended eight periods of shutout hockey played by the Brighton, MI, native; but Duff’s 1.33 goals-against average is also tops in the league.
Gualano opened the scoring as he did Saturday, scoring at 13:53 of the first period. Donald Geary broke through with 22 seconds left to make it 2-0, El Paso, at the first intermission.
Gualano got his second at 13:45 of a three-goal second frame. Anthony Knuth got a power play goal at 16:28 and Andrew Alpsteg scored unassisted at 18:40.
Defenseman Andrew Ketterer’s blast from the blue line beat San Antonio’s Julian Talavera just 46 seconds into the third for a power play goal, and Kyle Shapiro took the rebound from Geary’s wrap-around attempt and tucked it in at right post for a short-handed goal that finished the scoring at 14:42.
El Paso improves to 27-3-0, and the Rhinos 54 points is 20 better than second place Boulder.
San Antonio suffered their 20th loss of the season, falling to 9-20-1, good for fourth in the Mid-West Division.
El Paso will play an improving Tulsa Rampage team in a three-game series next weekend at the Sierra Providence Events Center before heading to the league showcase – so named because it showcases the league’s talent for college scouts who come from across the nation.
It will be a tough test for the Rhinos, though, as El Paso takes on the Western Division-leading Fresno Monsters in their first of two games, Friday, Dec. 18.
The Rhinos will actually take on the top four teams in the West, playing the third place San Diego Gulls Friday night, the second place Idaho Steelheads Saturday, Dec. 19, and will wrap up with a Sunday game against their old nemesis, the defending Thorne Cup champion Phoenix Polar Bears, who find themselves fourth in a division they have dominated for years.
For tickets and information about the Tulsa Rampage series, call the Rhinos front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.