(EL PASO, TX) — Jeremy Rezaeepour scored a hat trick and the El Paso Rhinos roared back with an 8-2 win over the Oklahoma City Blazers to force a decisive Game Three in the WSHL’s Midwest Division championship series Sunday afternoon.
Sufficiently challenged after dropping a 4-3 overtime decision to the Blazers Friday, the Rhinos found the extra gear that was so elusive in Game One; although Saturday started off in the same fashion as Friday.
Another early El Paso penalty led to another early Oklahoma City power play goal, as Rezaeepour was called for high-sticking at 3:09 of the first period and the Blazers’ Petr Kobes capitalized just 12 seconds later to give OKC a quick 1-0 lead.
But Saturday night, the Rhinos answered the challenge.
It started with a goal from defenseman Robert Horak, who laced his shot through a screen just under the crossbar to tie the game at 7:01 of the first period.
Horak’s countryman from the Czech Republic, Jiri Pestuka, gave the hosts their first lead of the series with a hard wrister with just 1:17 left in the first frame.
It was all El Paso from then on, as Rezaeepour scored at 4:07 of the second, followed 62 seconds later by Jonah Pearson on a well-worked transition goal, courtesy of line mates Jordan Cullum and Mitch Cobby.
Lukas Znosko made it 5-1 for the home team with a short-handed goal at 4:13 of the third period, stretching to touch the puck between two Blazers’ defenders, then out-skating them for the breakaway and beating Oklahoma City goalie Jakub Krejci through the five-hole.
Rezaeepour made it six unanswered goals, scoring his second at 7:34 and chasing Krejci from net.
Krejci made the initial save on Kendal Craig’s blast, ricocheting the puck 40 feet straight up in the air. But what goes up must come down, and Rezaeepour got to the puck first, tapping it in for the goal just over Krejci’s catching glove.
The Blazers finally answered with a second power play goal as Ivan Bukshevannyy made it 6-2 at 9:35. But El Paso wasn’t done, as defenseman Brennan Johnsson rifled home a power play goal from the point at 12:34, followed by Rezaeepour’s hat trick goal just 30 seconds later.
The two teams face off Sunday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. MDT to determine who will represent the Western States Hockey League’s Midwest Division in the best-of-three Thorne Cup semifinals.
Sunday’s game will feature $1 hot dogs and public skating with Rhinos’ players after the game. For tickets and information, contact the El Paso Rhinos’ front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.
Photo Credit: Sports Town El Paso