(EL PASO, TX) — For a home opener featuring so many new faces, it was the familiar ones that led the way as the defending Thorne Cup and national champion El Paso Rhinos shut out the Wichita Junior Thunder Friday night, 5-0.
Returning forward Jiri Pestuka scored the first goal of his hat trick just 10 seconds into the contest. Meanwhile, 6-6 goalie Adam Vay returned to the scene of some of his biggest games last season, stopping all 24 Wichita shots to earn his first shutout.
Pestuka and Vay, along with forward Kendal Craig and El Paso native Angel Sanca are the only players returning from the veteran-heavy Rhinos’ squad that vanquished the Idaho Junior Steelheads here last April to claim the team’s second Thorne Cup.
But the new guys are more than holding their own. Contributing to Pestuka’s hat trick was forward Reinis Vitolins, who assisted on all three goals.
Bryton Tomko and Martin Hanl scored the other two goals in a four-goal second frame for the hosts, who improve to 6-1-0-0 in the young season.
Wichita drops to 4-9-0-0.
After Pestuka’s opener, though, the game devolved through the rest of the first period as both teams perhaps pushed too hard to prove something in front of a sold-out Events Center crowd.
Vay helped his teammates settle their nerves by making several big saves; then successfully dealing with close to six minutes of penalty killing in the third frame, including back-to-back-to-back two-man advantages for the visitors.
Vay was named the game’s First Star for his efforts, followed by Pestuka and Vitolins, respectively.
The teams will play twice more, Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MDT, and Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. MDT. The Rhinos will unveil the new championship banner and give out championship rings Saturday night. Sunday afternoon’s game features $1.00 hot dogs.
For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos’ front office at 915.479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.