The El Paso Rhinos made the most of their first day against the Western Division at the Western States Hockey League Showcase in Las Vegas, NV. The Rhinos beat the San Diego Gulls, 3-2, in the morning and downing the Valencia Flyers, 5-1, in the afternoon.
Arthur Hollinger stopped 11 of 13 Gulls shots in the opener and El Paso got two second period power play goals from defensemen Kyle Shapiro and Drew Montague to earn a come-from-behind win against the Western Division’s third place team.
As the whole league takes part in this year’s Showcase – a switch from years past – teams are playing two 25-minute periods instead of three 20-minute periods to maximize the number of games and the number of players seen by college scouts.
The switch didn’t slow down the defending Thorne Cup champs, though the early start time may have.
Rhinos’ forward Eric LaBounty scored a goal at 21:39 of the first to tie the game, 1-1, after the Gulls took the initial lead.
San Diego took the lead again on Eric Obinger’s goal with the man advantage to lead off the second frame before El Paso’s d-men powered in their goals from the point for the win.
Playing the first contest of the Showcase after long drives, both teams seemed off their game, combining for just 38 shots. Face off was at 8 a.m. – meaning a rink arrival of around 6:30 a.m.; barely time enough to digest a continental breakfast muffin.
The nightcap for the Rhinos brought stat totals much closer to the norm, as El Paso outshot the Flyers by 33.
After spending time up with the Rhinos’ North American Hockey League affiliate, the Topeka Roadrunners, goaltender Andrew Duff returned to the El Paso lineup in time to stop 21 of 22 Valencia shots, while his teammates poured in 55 against the Western side’s second place club.
Shapiro opened up the scoring just 49 seconds into the game, and the Rhinos took the lead for good on the first of two straight goals from winger Zach Goller at 16:47 of the first.
Goller, Shane Callahan and Montague put in three more in the second, and El Paso retired to its hotel with an impressive opening day in the books.
The Rhinos take on the Capital Thunder at 9:30 a.m. Saturday before wrapping up with a Showcase showdown against the team they beat for the Thorne Cup last March, the perennial Western Division powerhouse Phoenix Polar Bears, at 8 a.m. Sunday morning.