(EL PASO, TX) — Jiri Pestuka scored twice in the first period, including the eventual game-winning goal, as the El Paso Rhinos dominated the Oklahoma City Blazers, 7-1, in the rubber match between the teams.
Playing in front of a third consecutive sellout crowd of 1,832, El Paso improved to 13-2-0-0 and breaks the tie between the teams for second place in the WSHL’s Midwest Division. The Rhinos 26 points narrowly leads Oklahoma City (12-2-0-0, 24 points).
The Blazers, in their first season in the league, are proving to be a worthy rival to the defending Thorne Cup and national champion Rhinos. OKC won Friday’s series opener, 5-2, speeding their way to a 2-0 lead in the opening 90 seconds of the game. El Paso found its stride in Saturday’s 6-2 win, then punished a tired Blazers team Sunday with a deeper bench, staunch defense and a finally-confident offense.
Though it took until Saturday night to find confidence on the puck, the Rhinos wasted no time moving forward when they did, outscoring the visitors, 6-1, after the Blazers got off to a 1-0 lead.
Sunday, Gavin Abbot scored the game’s first goal at 4:21, followed by Pestuka at 10:02, and again at 16:18.
El Paso scored both second period goals on the power play at the start of the frame. David Brancik laced his shot under the crossbar, scoring on a 5-on-3 just 41 seconds into the period. Twenty-seven seconds later, Mark Langhammer added another on the second Blazers’ penalty to give the Rhinos a 5-0 lead.
Matthew Audette got Oklahoma City on the board to open the scoring in the third period at 12:16; but El Paso’s Martin Hanl notched the final goals of the night, on the power play at 17:34 and again at 19:01 off a nifty spin move at the crease that fooled goalie Braden Lajoie.
The game was marred by some grandstanding by the Blazers at the end of the game. Frustrated after suffering its first losses of the season, OKC’s Pavel Oxiouta went after one of the Rhinos players, then made contact with the game officials trying to break up the melee.
Oxiouta, and OKC’s Taner Byrd, Hunter Smith and Kole Hudson, along with the Rhinos’ Koler Kanistanaux, all received Game Misconduct penalties for various offenses after the final horn sounded. Oxiouta also received a Gross Misconduct for the attempt to hit one of the referees.
The incident marred an otherwise hard-hitting, fun series. The teams play twice more in the regular season, Feb. 13-15 in Oklahoma City, and Feb. 27-Mar. 1 back in El Paso.
After a three-game series in Wichita, Dec. 5-7, the Rhinos return home to face Midwest Division-leading Springfield, Dec. 12-14. For tickets and and information, contact the Rhinos’ front office at 915/479-PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.