Mar. 31, 2012
El Paso, TX – Day two at the WSHL Thorne Cup Championship Tournament will for many be considered a day of surprise. After a great first day of competition with a couple of well-played games, Friday would be defined by blown opportunities.
In the first game, the Fresno Monsters (0-1-0) went up against a Dallas Ice Jets (1-0-0) team that had all of the momentum in the world going in. However, once the puck dropped it was a completely different story. Fresno came out hot jumping to a three goal lead after one with Jason Beisinger, Marc Haaf, and Don Coyle all scoring for the Western Conference champs. The second period though is where their chances at a Thorne Cup would begin to dwindle.
Dallas’ Christian Eslborg improved on his weekend with two goals in the second period that also bookmarked a goal by Emilio Mayagoitia who joined the team late in the season. What was most unexpected was the resolve shown by Dallas to get even after such a horrendous opening frame. In the second period, the tables had turned completely as the Monsters were outshot 16-3 whereas in the first they led the shooting 17-5.
The back and forth would continue as Fresno played harder in the third but Dallas was just too much for them. Jefferson Wright and Austin Azurdia would score to take the lead and increase to 5-3 before Brandon Unser pocketed an empty netter to finish the game off and secure their place in the Thorne Cup Championship game. With the Monsters having lost two games, they would need the El Paso Rhinos (0-1-0) to defeat the Idaho Junior Steelheads (1-0-0) to have any chance at playing in the final game on Sunday; it wouldn’t happen though.
In a game that flaunted two incredibly talented offenses, one shined much brighter than the other. Much like Fresno in game one against Dallas, Idaho took a gigantic lead on El Paso. The difference is that they would keep it going and the Rhinos could never catch up. The game started off rocky for goaltender Trent Casper as he allowed a quick one just 36 seconds in by Ben Hanus to give the Junior Steelheads a quick lead that would never vanquish. Idaho would get three more goals by Tyler Smith, Matt Sanford, and Justin Videen to end the period and the night for Casper with a 4-0 lead.
Coming back from the first intermission with Vincent DiCarlo in the net, El Paso had a lot of work to do and they started in great shape as Idaho took penalty after penalty after penalty to open the period (10 PIMS in less than ten minutes). However, after two power play goals by Travis Oddy and Tomas Stastny, the comeback would end and Idaho went on to score two more thanks to Skyler McKnight and Tyler Kruenegel to regain a 4 goal lead 6-2. But the pattern of poor penalties continued for Idaho (12 PIMS in final ten minutes) and the Rhinos scored two more on the man-advantage with less than a minute to go by Kyle Stephens and another by Stastny to go into the break 6-4.
With Thorne Cup aspirations on their mind, the Rhinos did everything they could to fight back in the game and played even better in the third than they did in the second, but unstable play between the pipes turned out to be their demise (5 goals on 8 shots against DiCarlo). Idaho extended their lead 7-4 off of a Jake Webber goal and that sparked a back and forth pattern of scoring for the rest of the game. Stastny completed the hat trick early in the third period but it just wasn’t enough to spark a turn around. Sanford would get that goal back at the 7 minute mark but El Paso kept fighting and scored on a goal by John Morales. However, 13 seconds later, Idaho would get it back with another Kruenegel goal and maintained the 9-6 lead to guarantee a spot in the finals against Dallas on Sunday.
Nobody saw anything like this coming into the weekend, but with the Rhinos and Monsters sitting at 0-2, the game they will play on Saturday is just to ensure third place. Both of these teams could have very easily been in the final game, but missed opportunities killed their chances and now they both find themselves playing an empty game to end the season. Dallas and Idaho on the other hand will have a feeler game on Saturday as this will essentially be an exhibition between the two teams who play for the hardware on Sunday. Who would have thought the expansion Ice Jets would be going up against the defending champs for the Thorne Cup? It’s been exciting and is only going to get better.
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.