It was a good enough series that both teams had a center ice handshake after the third and final game of the “Turkey Bowl”, a hockey tradition usually reserved for end of playoff series.
Nonetheless, there is no reason to think that the Idaho Junior Steelheads are anything other than one of the favorites to repeat as Thorne Cup champions, beating El Paso twice in the series, including a 4-2 win in Saturday\’s third game.
Idaho came roaring out of the gate as Ivo Crhak scored just 2:02 into the first period.
Stefan Brucato scored at 9:44 of the first and Dylen Parle tallied exactly 2:00 into the second frame to make it 3-0 for the visitors before El Paso threatened to make a game of it.
Defenseman Chris Wilhite scored on the power play for the hosts, lifting in his shot from the point as John Morales screened Steelheads\’ goalie Jordyn Kaufer at 12:28 of the second.
But Idaho centerman Ben Hanus took the momentum back for the Steelheads as the Rhinos missed a clearance after a face-off in the El Paso zone. Hanus deked Rhinos goaltender Trent Caspar down to the ice before beating him low at 15:01 of the second for a 4-1 Idaho lead.
El Paso\’s Matt Petrzykowski gave the Rhinos a boost with a beautiful backhand goal to cap a short-handed breakaway. Pietrzykowski popped his shot over Kaufer’s left shoulder and into the top of the netting with the outside of his blade at 8:30 of the third period.
But the damage was done in the first 40 minutes and El Paso will have to wait until mid-December for the Western States Hockey League Showcase in Las Vegas before continuing its pursuit of the defending champs.
Idaho improves to 16-2-2 (34 points) and leads the WSHL\’s Mountain Conference.
The Rhinos (13-2-0, 36 points) remain second in the Mid-West Conference, trailing the Dallas Ice Jets by a point.
El Paso hits the road next weekend for a three-game series against the New Mexico Renegades in Rio Rancho, NM, before returning home in two weeks for another tough series against Western Conference favorites, the Fresno Monsters (19-1-0, 38 points).
Already leading the Western Conference by 14 points, the Monsters are the only team in the league to have defeated Idaho twice.
For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos front office at 915-479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.