In his second game playing for the team he had just finished playing against the week before, Parker Harrison scored the game-winning goal in overtime to give El Paso a 7-6 win over their hosts.
After Tulsa’s 7-4 win Friday night, El Paso had some questions to answer. Certainly, the Rhinos play with the knowledge that the target is firmly on their backs after winning the Mid-West Division championship in their inaugural season and running out to a double-digit lead again in 2007-08.
The Rampage is certainly capable, earning the look back from division-leading El Paso as the Rhinos sprint toward the Mid-West playoffs as the top seed.
However, El Paso did not turn into a pillar of salt after Friday’s loss. Instead, the Rhinos downshifted for the uphill battle beginning with head coach Cory Herman’s choice for starting goaltender.
Arthur Hollinger was pulled from net after Tulsa scored its fifth straight goal midway through the second period Friday night. Rather than starting the equally-talented Anthony Natali, Herman went right back to Hollinger.
He didn’t rethink the move after the Rampage’s Brandon Ellison scored just 54 seconds into the game, nor after Nik Ellickson scored 50 seconds after that, nor when Evan Mosey got a power play goal at 3:16 – a 3-0 lead for the home team just over three minutes into the game.
Herman just let his team work their way back into the game.
It began with Bill Krueger’s power play strike at 7:18 of the first.
Tulsa’s Craig Martin made it 4-1 on the power play at 11:30, but Marcus Wilhite gaveEl Paso the last goal of the period at 14:26, scoring the Rhinos’ league-leading 18th shorthanded goal of the season.
Again the Rampage answered an El Paso goal with another of its own, as Castro potted his second, unassisted at 2:05 of the second, making it 5-2.
But the Rhinos finally busted loose on Tulsa goaltender Mike Davis, as Austin Balko capitalized on the power play at 14:03 of the second period. Defenseman Sean Molina made it 5-4 with a goal at 17:34, setting the stage for Wilhite, who tied the game, again ending the period’s scoring with his second shorthanded goal of the night and El Paso ’s 19th, at 18:29.
Bill Krueger then gave El Paso its first lead with another hard-work power play goal at 7:01 of the third period.
But Castro wasn’t done for Tulsa , either, getting his hat trick goal to re-tie the game just 54 seconds from the end of regulation.
Enter Harrison, formerly the leading scorer for the Colorado Outlaws; a Colorado Spring, CO, native who just finished playing in El Paso last weekend but was traded to the Rhinos for forward Zac MacLeod and defender Seth Longbottom.
Harrison scored on the only shot in overtime for either team, beating Davis just 57 seconds in with assists to Eric LaBounty and another Coloradoan, Kevin Davis.
“The boys battled tonight,” said a proud Herman. “They fought to the bitter end.
“Especially after the loss last night, I was looking for heart. I figured I’d find it. This team hasn’t given up at any point this season. It sure was true tonight.”
El Paso claims the full two points to improve to 38-1-2 with 78 points, leading Tulsa by 17 points going into tomorrow afternoon’s series-ender. One point for the Rampage gives them a 29-9-3 mark and 61 points, two points clear of third place San Antonio . Colorado maintains the fourth and final playoff berth in the Mid-West Division with 43 points.
The Rhinos andTulsa play at 2:45 p.m. MST. Check out live game-tracking provided at www.pointstreak.com. Just key “WSHL” into the hockey searchbar and follow the links.