(EL PASO, TX) — Goaltender Adam Vay stopped 42 of 43 shots and the El Paso Rhinos hung on to defeat the Ogden Mustangs, 2-1, to take a commanding 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Thorne Cup semifinals night.
Another sold out crowd at the El Paso County Events Center was on the edge of their seats for the majority of the game as both teams delivered body blow after body blow. Equally as big as the Rhinos, Ogden did something few teams have done this season — outshoot El Paso, 43-30.
But Vay, the Rhinos 6-foot-6 Hungarian netminder, made several big saves and the El Paso defense did the rest, diving in front of shots, clogging traffic near the crease and helping Vay deal with rebounds.
Though fans didn’t get the usual offensive fireworks display, they did get to witness hard-nosed playoff hockey. And they saw the home team win with one of its best defensive efforts this season.
That effort included special teams. The second-most penalized team in the Western States Hockey League’s regular season, the Rhinos once again found themselves short-handed noticeably more than the opposition. El Paso killed off five of the Mustangs’ six power plays on the night and did not score in their only man advantage .
That said, the Rhinos had already jumped out to a 2-0 lead when Ogden finally tallied.
Jordan Cullum’s shot was turned aside by Ogden goalie Christoffer Sjoo, but fell straight to centerman Jonah Pearson in the middle of the slot. Pearson put his shot over Sjoo’s shoulder at of the first period to give the hosts the lead.
But El Paso would need Gavin Abbott’s goal to decide the game.
A well-worked passing sequence found Abbott alone in the slot after Marek Langhammer’s pass from behind the net went to Martin Han’l on Sjoo’s glovehand side. Han’l smoothly slid the puck to Abbott in the slot and the New Yorker obliged, one-timing the game-winner past Sjoo at of the third.
The Mustangs finally found the back of the net just six seconds into their fifth power play after Langhammer was called for cross-checking at.
Winning the resulting draw in the Rhinos’ zone, Ilya Bobko sent the puck to Schuyler Seyfert who passed to Martin Hallin in the right circle. Hallin one-timed a vicious slapshot over Vay’s shoulder, popping the goalie’s water bottle in the process.
But that was the only blemish for the former Hungarian junior national team goalie, and El Paso now needs just one more win to advance to its second straight Thorne Cup Championship for a chance to defend its title.
Face off for Game Two is at , with Game Three starting at , if necessary.
For tickets and information, contact the El Paso Rhinos’ front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.