In a wild and woolly contest, San Antonio scored first and, for the first time this season, put the Rhinos in a two-goal hole at home.
Chase Haubersin started the scoring just 2:00 into the game before former defenseman Bill Krueger’s hard work goal evened the score at 17:32 of the first. But the score would not stay tied going into the first intermission, as Adam Fisher scored for the Diablos on a two-man advantage just 57 seconds from time.
Nick Gorup equalized forEl Paso , scoring the only goal of the second period at 12:40, as the Rhinos had looked sluggish for much of the game, but had still fought their way back into a 2-2 tie after 40 minutes of hockey.
But the big showdown was yet to come, courtesy of a six-goal third period.
San Antonio wasted no time in blasting away to begin the final frame, and after yielding two goals in the opening four minutes of the period, El Paso almost gave up the ghost.
Falling to the ice, Nick Watters popped the puck far post past Hollinger unassisted at 1:46, followed just over two minutes later by d-man Graham Newell. But Newell might have wanted to rethink his celebration, as he shushed the crowd at theSierraProvidenceEventsCenter way too soon.
One thing Herman has commented on all season is how tenacious this year’s Rhinos are, and they proved their coach right again.
Zach Hale got the crowd back into the game with a beautifully-placed shot past Diablos’ goalie Jason Barden, tucking his wrister just inside the far post at 6:10 for the Rhinos’ first power play goal of the game.
Hale struck again on the man advantage at 10:43 to even the game, assisted by Hard Work Hayden Kowalski. Kowalski’s pestering of San Antonio at its crease drew the penalty that resulted in the game-tying power play.
Not backing away with score tied, Kowalski continually placed himself on the Diablos’ porch, and again his work paid off as he deflected Hale’s shot past Barden for the lead with just 3:01 left in regulation.
But an amazing series of events gave the Diablos another 5-on-3 power play, as referee Michael Anderson whistled El Paso ’s Rashad Harris for tripping Barden behind the net at 17:22. While San Antonio went after Harris, Hale came in to back him up and was himself whistled for a roughing minor. The result was the Diablos’ Malcolm Harris evening the game for a fourth time at 18:32.
Appropriately, neither team could take down the other in the five-minute overtime, but El Paso’s quality in the shootout showed, as Hollinger stopped three of San Antonio’s five shots, while the Rhinos scored on three of their four. Wilhite’s strike stick-side, low, beat Barden to the left post, and after Hollinger forced Nick Compton too wide to follow through on the Diablos’ final try, Wilhite’s goal was the game winner, netting him First Star honors.
Hollinger remains third in the Western States Hockey League with a 1.88 goals-against average as El Paso earned its 20th win. The Rhinos 20-0-2 mark gives them 42 points to edge Tulsa (19-7-2, 40 points) for the Mid-West Division lead, though El Paso has six games in hand on the Rampage. San Antonio sits third in the division at 17-8-3, earning a point for taking the Rhinos to shootout for 37 on the season.
The two teams will play again Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MST and Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. MST. Fans can follow the action at www.elpasorhinos.com as Duke Keith and Michael Hissam have the play-by-play, and can get live game-tracking at www.pointstreak.com. Just key “WSHL” into the hockey searchbar and follow the links.
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