(EL PASO, TX) — Victor Carlsson opened the scoring once again for the Idaho Jr. Steelheads and goalie Austin Althaus stopped 20 of 22 Rhinos shots as Idaho evened the best-of-five Thorne Cup Finals, 1-1, with a 5-2 win Saturday night.
The mistakes that plagued Idaho in the Rhinos’ 4-3 come-from-behind win in game one Friday night were nowhere to be foundSaturday, as the Jr. Steelheads dotted nearly every “I” and crossed nearly every “T”. When they didn’t, Althaus came up with some incredible saves that haunted the hosts throughout the game.
As he did Friday, Idaho’s Victor Carlsson started the scoring in the first period, depositing a wide rebound off of Kris Apsitis’ shot behind Rhinos goalie Alek Lazarski at 12:49.
Idaho followed that with the first of two power play goals at 3:56 of the second period. Defenseman Dimitris Jones stopped El Paso d-man John Bowen’s clearance at the blue line, then ripped a slapshot through traffic, beating Alek Lazarski to give the visitors a 2-0 lead going into the third period.
The Rhinos finally came to life in the third, as defenseman David Brancik scored in much the same fashion as Jones, firing a long shot through traffic to beat Althaus on the power play just 30 seconds into the final frame.
But Johannes Yucel put in a second power play goal at 10:52 to restore the Jr. Steelheads’ two-goal lead.
Idaho was consistent and smooth offensively and defensively throughout the game, and it took El Paso nearly the entire period before it scored again.
With the Rhinos’ net empty behind him, defenseman Brennan Johnson threaded a needle of a shot from above the left circle to beat Althaus at 18:14 to make it 3-2.
But Idaho ended the Rhinos’ rally with two empty-net goals — Kyle Williams at 18:39 and Yucel with his second at 19:46 — and the Jr. Steelheads will return home to McCall, ID, with momentum and home ice advantage on their side.
Idaho outshot the Rhinos, 29-22; out-scored El Paso on the power play, going 2-for-3 to the Rhinos’ 1-for-4; and out-lasted El Paso despite the hosts’ clear size advantage. Saturday night, the Jr. Steelheads’ speed kept them one step ahead of their larger, more physical opponents.
But a best-of-five series — the first cup final of this length for the Western States Hockey League — will provide the truest test of the abilities and resiliency of the two teams battling for the Thorne Cup; which, for now, still resides in El Paso.
Games three and four, and game five, if necessary, will all be at the Manchester Ice and Events Center in McCall, a resort town roughly two hour’s drive north of Boise, ID. Fans can watch the games and keep track of the latest news on game times atwww.elpasorhinos.com.