(EL PASO, TX) Should anyone think special teams aren¹t that important in hockey, the El Paso Rhinos could set you straight.
The Rhinos took bad penalties and gave up goals in Game One of the WSHL¹s best-of-three Midwest Division championship series Friday, putting their
own backs against the wall in a 4-3 overtime loss to Oklahoma City.
But in Sunday¹s do-or-die Game Three, El Paso scored four power play goals and a short-handed goal en route to an 8-1 win, eliminating the Blazers in furious fashion and earning a berth in the Thorne Cup semifinals next weekend against the Ogden Mustangs.
Friday¹s loss served as a wake-up call for the defending league and national champion Rhinos, as the team went on to outscore Oklahoma City, 16-3, in the final two games.
El Paso defenseman John Bowen returned from a seven-game suspension and blasted home the first goal from the blue line at 6:14 of the opening
period. The power play goal was the first time the Rhinos had opened the scoring in the series.
Lukas Znosko tapped home El Paso¹s second at 17:13 of the first period after Kendal Craig patiently skated wide of an Oklahoma City defender before sliding a short pass into the slot for his line mate.
The Rhinos¹ Martin Han¹l was called for tripping on the opening draw of the second frame, giving an opportunity for the dangerous Oklahoma City power play to go to work. But on the resulting face-off El Paso¹s Gavin Abbott split the Blazers¹ defense with a stretch pass up the middle of the ice that caught Marek Langhammer in stride.
The Czech forward outpaced two defenders to walk in on OKC goalie Jakub Krejci, roofing his shot over Krejci¹s shoulder for the short-handed goal just 12 seconds after Han¹l¹s penalty and :17 into the period.
Team captain Sebastian Borg touched home Bowen¹s slapshot at 2:44 for the Rhinos¹ second power play goal and Han¹l scored El Paso¹s third goal in
the first five minutes of the period after Langhammer found him on the breakaway at 4:56.
Bryton Tomko continued the onslaught with a goal at 4:30 of the third period, followed by Han¹l¹s second on the power play at 8:09.
Craig scored the Rhinos eighth with a power play goal at 14:27 of the third.
The Blazers¹ Kole Hudson wrapped the game¹s scoring, averting the shutout by beating El Paso netminder Adam Vay with a low shot at 16:29.
Vay gave himself a nice 21st birthday present, stopping 28 of 29 Oklahoma City shots on the night.
The Blazers finish their inaugural season becoming the only team to beat El Paso at least once in every one of the four series the teams played.
But it¹s the Rhinos who advance in the playoffs, hosting Ogden in a best-of-three series beginning Friday, March 27th, and Saturday, March 28th. Both games start at 7:30 p.m. MDT. If necessary, Sunday¹s third game would start at 4:30 p.m. MDT.
For more information, contact the Rhinos¹ front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to the team¹s website, www.elpasorhinos.com.
Photo Credit: Sports Town El Paso