Renegades Sent Packing
Mar. 11, 2012
El Paso, TX
Bounce back doesn’t even begin to tell the story of what the El Paso Rhinos did on Sunday evening against the New Mexico Renegades. After a night of chances that didn’t pan out, the Rhinos made sure to capitalize on all opportunities en route to a 5-0 victory, and advancing to the Mid-West Conference Finals.
The night was filled with flashy goals and stunning saves, while the only real confrontational sparks occurred in the first period. Once Craig Hanisch went after Adam Moon and was ejected, the Rhinos were skating two forwards short as Matt Tritsch served his one game suspension. However that wouldn’t stop them from coming out of the dressing room with no score on the board. David Nelson changed that as he sat in front of goalie Joey MacConnell and took a bounce in front far-side as he was falling to take a 1-0 lead.
However the most impressive point of the game came when the Rhinos were serving a John Morales holding penalty. Trey Hughes sniped his third goal of the post-season past MacConnell on the penalty kill after hustling past two defenders. The most majestic goal of the season though came off the stick of Brenden Gust on that same pk. The 5’3” forward from North Dakota picked the puck up at the blue-line while being ferociously back-checked by Jarred Couillard. As he took a stick to the leg, he used his right foot to kick the puck to his blade while he raced for MacConnell; and just as he was about four feet out, Couillard hooked Gust’s left leg sending him soaring in the air. As Gust was in flight, he channeled his inner Bobby Orr and slide the puck five-hole for a commanding 3-0 lead.
At that point, it was evident that New Mexico had lost hope. Shoulders were slouched, heads were down, and there was no sight of a desire to play anymore. With that, Nelson would tack on his second of the night to go into the dressing room leading 4-0.
Not much changed stepping back onto the ice for the third period as the Rhinos continued to outskate and outshoot the Renegades. When faced with a shot, Trent Casper saved it with ease as he went on to record his second shutout in three games. After the game Saturday, head coach Cory Herman was questioned if he would stick with Casper or go with Vincent DiCarlo. His response: “No question, you’ve got to stick with your work horse. Trent has battled hard for us all season and he is going to be the one we continue to go with.” Herman’s faith did not go unrewarded as Casper stopped all 24 pucks he challenged with. Matthew Pietrzykowski finished the night for El Paso with his first goal of the playoffs and the Rhinos won 5-0.
The Renegades will go back to New Mexico and even though this loss stings, as they were on the verge of a huge upset, they have much to be proud of. Their franchise has pulled a complete 180 after new management took over, and the program still has much to build on after this season. However, the Rhinos now move on to host the Dallas Ice Jets in a best-of-three game series to determine the Mid-West Conference Champions. Both teams will also be moving on to the Thorne Cup Tournament regardless of the outcome as the Rhinos have an automatic bid being the hosts, and the Ice Jets will go to represent the Conference. Once there, they will be joined by either the Valencia Flyers or the Fresno Monsters as Western Conference Champions, and either the Boulder Bison or the Idaho Junior Steelheads as winners of the Mountain Conference. Whatever happens, these playoffs have already been the most impressive in the history of the WSHL.
Matt Prosser, El Paso Rhinos Beat Writer for JuniorHockey.com. Founder of Fifty8 Productions and freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Voice of California State University, Sacramento Hockey and host of The Sports Cycle with Matt Prosser on KSSU1580 Sacramento. For comments and writing ventures e-mail Matt@Fifty8productions.com. Follow on Twitter @MattProsser58 or visit www.kssusportsycle.com.