Apr. 01, 2012
El Paso, TX – Following two days of hard fought hockey, day three of the Thorne Cup Championship Tournament was practically an exhibition event. Neither game would have any outcome on who would play on Sunday since the Dallas Ice Jets (2-0-0) and defending champs Idaho Junior Steelheads (2-0-0) have already secured their places. However, on the negative side of their successes are the two teams that will be on the outside looking in: the El Paso Rhinos (0-2-0) and the Fresno Monsters (0-2-0).
Coincidentally, the two teams who will be playing for the Thorne Cup played each other on Saturday with the Junior Steelheads winning the tune-up 3-2. Idaho scored all three of their goals in the first period beginning with a beautiful one by Ivo Crhak when he received a long pass from the high point by Matt Sanford and went top shelf above Michael Baldwin’s shoulder. Although there weren’t many shots, Idaho controlled most of the game using their size and forcing Dallas to make some shots that fell lame in front of Josh Benton (Jordyn Kaufer was given the day off).
About halfway through the period Idaho lit the lamp again off of a faceoff draw to the left of Baldwin. Once the puck was dropped, collectively the entire Ice Jets line skated away from the puck that was caught in no-man’s land as if expecting each other to pick it up. Instead, Skyler McKnight did and fired a shot that went wide left, bounced off the boards, and slid left of the goal where Sean VanEysden had no problem putting in the backhand to take a 2-0 lead. Almost immediately after, Dallas went on the penalty kill and Jake Webber banged another one home to take a three goal lead.
The final two periods were some more of the same when it came to grind-it-out hockey. Although shots came more at a premium, the only goal scored in the second period was by Dallas who was hoping to have a repeat of their game on Friday when they rallied from 3-0 to beat Fresno 6-3. This time, the tough earned goal from 15ft out by Christian Elsborg wouldn’t spark the team enough to come back in this one. The Junior Steelheads would only allow one more goal the rest of the game (a long shot by Tommy Mines) to maintain the win.
The game in prime-time was the final one that El Paso fans would see of their Rhinos this season as they played the Monsters in a game that’s only significance would be crowning third place in the tournament. Both teams were shockingly winless entering the match as it very easily could have been them playing for the title. But that wasn’t the case an instead drew the straw to close out Saturday’s play at the Sierra Providence Events Center.
This one was full of back and forth action with lots of physicality. Two teams who felt dejected after their chances at playing on Sunday withered left it all out on the ice to end the season. Fresno struck first when Zach Alvarez scored while Rhinos Kyle Stephens and Matthew Pietrzykowski were each serving two-minute minors. El Paso hardly had a chance to do much damage in the first period as they spent a good portion of it in the box due to three Pietrzykowski penalties (all for Slashing) which left them winded.
The second period however, the penalty minutes would go the other way as Zach Alvarez jumped off the deep end with Roughing, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, and Abuse of the Officials penalties all at the 3:18 mark. The Rhinos still failed to score with the man-advantage. However, Michael Rivera would eventually get them a powerplay goal while Kyle Baker went off for Interference to tie it 1-1. By the end of the period, ten different players sat for timeouts.
Coming back from the intermission Fresno was still serving a David Kann penalty, but that expired and about two and a half minutes later they took the lead off of a Mark Haaf goal. However, it wouldn’t last long as El Paso battled back with a David Nelson blast. John Morales would follow that up with the game-winner ten minutes later and the Rhinos won 3-2 to avoid going winless in the tournament they hosted and ended the season with a victory.
Now that all of the preliminary games have been completed, two teams remain and there will be a rematch of the game from Saturday. But while the Junior Steelheads and the Ice Jets played each other already, it was hardly what we will see on Sunday. With Saturday essentially being worthless, third and fourth liners were given more time while the top players were given more time to rest. With the two teams at full steam for the grand-daddy of the WSHL, this should be the most intense hockey of the season to close it out.
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.