Mar. 30, 2012
El Paso, TX – What a way to start off the biggest weekend of the year in the WSHL as both the matinee and the prime time event proved to live up to the ticket. Four teams full of outstanding players entered the Sierra Providence Events Center in El Paso, Texas to make the final push for the hardware they have been chasing all season long.
Game one saw the Fresno Monsters defeated at the hands of the Idaho Junior Steelheads 3-1; but even though the black and blue had a two goal cushion when the final buzzer sounded, it was anything but comfortable.
Both teams played a sensationally physical first period with bodies flying all around the ice. Neither Tom McGuckin nor Jordyn Kaufer were tested much in the opening frame due to all of the support in front of them. Both teams were hard on the forecheck and forced turnovers. However in the second period, Idaho began to outskate Fresno a bit, took more shots, and off of a rebound Filip Kasaly jammed home the first goal of the game. Kasaly would make an even prettier behind-the-back pass to Ben Hanus who opened it up 2-0 just before the break.
The Monsters however would find their way on the scoreboard with a power play goal by Tommy Nourie from the top of the slot that just went over the outstretched glove of Kaufer. The Junior Steelheads though continued to force Fresno to the rim and wouldn’t allow another to enter the net. Justin Videen tacked on a goal with the man-advantage for Idaho midway through the period to give the final score of 3-1 in favor of the defending Thorne Cup Champs.
Game two was a bit of a different tale as the Dallas Ice Jets found redemption against the El Paso Rhinos with a 2-1 win; this score was completely indicative of a goalie duel.
To set the stage for this game, El Paso has dominated this series almost all year long coming into Thursday’s game with a 6-2 overall record (including Week 2 playoffs). However in the two games Dallas won, the Rhinos were completely overtaken and seemed overwhelmingly lethargic. This time though, they just got beat by astonishing goaltending by Michael Baldwin who stopped 35 of El Paso’s 36 shots. In the other pipes, Trent Casper played well too but just under three minutes of time on the ice cost him.
Dallas opened up the scoring with just over a minute remaining in the first period on a goal by Austin Azurdia who went from end-to-end and scored glove side on Casper to take a 1-0 lead into the intermission. When the teams got back to the ice though, it was as if the Ice Jets had never stepped off.
Just 1:17 into the period Christian Elsborg, who was just about non-existent during the previous series, was silent no more as he enhanced the lead to two with a chip in from just behind the goal line. It would take another 15 minutes before the Rhinos would find twine by way of a Tomas Stastny deflection from the left side of the net. Both teams would have a quiet third period and the Ice Jets skated off the victors.
The big question now for the Monsters and the Rhinos is what will it take for them to right the ship? The answer is somewhat simplistic but difficult to accomplish. For Fresno, they need to play their game which is in the slot. This is a team that must find a way to split the defense and score within ten feet of the goal. In their game against Idaho, they were muscled to the boards almost religiously every time they entered the zone. Stay up front and keep shooting because if they face the same Michael Baldwin who was on the ice Thursday, then they will need every shot they can get.
For El Paso, it’s all about capitalizing on golden opportunities. In seemingly 90% of their losses this season, the overlaying theme was that they didn’t score when they had the chance. And these are just chances to throw the puck on net; these are missed shots, bad passes that would’ve led to open nets, and taking bad penalties on the powerplay. All of these things are fixable, but will they have the chance against a very physical Idaho team?
We’ll find the answers to all this and more on Friday Frenzy in the WSHL as Fresno and Dallas have the early game while El Paso and Idaho play later in the evening. Look for both to be highly intense and extremely physical as the Thorne Cup Tournament is just getting warmed up.
Matt Prosser, El Paso Rhinos Beat Writer for JuniorHockey.com. Founder of Fifty8 Productions and freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. Voice of California State University, Sacramento Hockey and host of The Sports Cycle with Matt Prosser on KSSU1580 Sacramento. For comments and writing ventures e-mail Matt@Fifty8productions.com. Follow on Twitter @MattProsser58 or visit www.kssusportsycle.com.