The El Paso Rhinos won the Conference Championship over the Ogden Mustangs on Saturday night — but it took until the very last second to seal the deal.
The Rhinos were outshot again by the Mustangs – 34-22 – but not when it counted. In the third period, the Rhinos outshot Ogden 9-7, the most important of which was number nine. The two teams headed into the third period tied 2-2 following a late Mustangs goal as the second period came to a close.
Defenseman David Brancik sealed the championship for the Rhinos at 18:35 of the third period. Forwards Martin Hanl and Marek Langhammer assisted on the last minute winner that sent the Ogden Mustangs home after a quick two game visit to El Paso.
Hanl finished up the night with three points after assisting on the Rhinos two second period goals. The first goal came after only a minute and pulled the Rhinos level at 1-1. Langhammer scored with an assist from forward Gavin Abbott and Hanl. Langhammer would end the night with three points also.
Abbott – last night’s number one star and game winning goal scorer – would put the Rhinos ahead 2-1 only six minutes after Langhammer pulled El Paso even. Before the period was over however, Ogden would tie the game at 2-2 and set up a dramatic third period.
In the third, neither team had a penalty or reached double figures in shots. The play was fast paced and hard hitting – the epitome of what playoff hockey is supposed to be. Brancik nearly brought the house down at the Sierra Providence Events Center with his last minute goal.
The Mustangs could shake the Rhinos’ hands following the game with their heads held high — as the team put up a tremendous fight despite losing both games. The Mustangs travel home to Utah and the Rhinos wait to see their fate decided by the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
The Rhinos will face the Steelheads in the Thorne Cup Finals next weekend and the weekend after. The finals are a five game set with two games in one city and three in the other. Had the Rhinos faced anyone else in the finals, it would be up to Coach Cory Herman and staff to decide where the first two games of the series would be played.
The Steelheads are the only team in the league to end the season with a better record than the Rhinos and therefore they get the chance to decide where the first two games are to be played. If the Steelheads want home ice advantage for the three game set, then the two teams will play the first two at the Sierra Providence Events Center next Friday and Saturday. If for some reason the Steelheads choose to have the first two at home, then the two teams will play the final three games (if needed) in El Paso the following weekend.
Photo Credit: Sports Town El Paso