Three power play goals and a short-handed strike helped carry the El Paso Rhinos to a 9-4 victory over the Valencia Flyers Saturday at the Sierra Providence Events Center.
Nick Gualano and Austin Balko each scored twice for El Paso in the winning effort. Balko also had two assists for a four-point night while Gualano contributed one helper to give him eight points in a Rhinos uniform.
Valencia had a much better showing Saturday than in Friday’s 9-0 El Paso shutout. The Flyers – who made the trip to El Paso after most of the roster of this weekend’s scheduled opponents, the last place Dallas Hawks, bolted the team – were weary from a last-minute 14-hour bus ride that got them to the Sun City mere hours before they played.
Valencia’s special teams play earned them a 2-1 lead in the first period. Gualano opened the scoring for the home team with a power play blast at 6:27 of the first, but Flyer’s forward John Dove’s equalizer as Valencia’s first power play expired was followed just over two minutes later by a power play goal by team captain Andy Monesi.
But Nick Gorup made El Paso two-for-two on the man advantage at 15:52 of the first to tie the game going into the first intermission.
Whatever was missing from the Rhinos effort in the first period didn’t carry over to the second, as El Paso came out guns blazing, scoring four unanswered goals to take a 6-2 lead before Valencia got one back before the end of the period.
The Rhinos poured in three more in the final frame, including Balko’s brilliant short-handed effort to wrap up El Paso’s scoring.
The Rhinos are now 44-3-1 and their 89 points lead the Western States Hockey League with just Sunday’s home game left in the regular season.
El Paso will host the Colorado Outlaws in the best-of-three Mid-West Division semifinals next weekend at the Sierra Providence Events Center. Should they win that series, El Paso would host the winner of the Tulsa Rampage-San Antonio Diablos series for the right to defend the Thorne Cup in the WSHL finals.
For more information, contact the Rhinos front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825) or log onto the team website, www.elpasorhinos.com.