The first weekend of October was filled with great Western States Hockey League action and the theme thus far, albeit early in the season, has been that of parity and we saw even more of that over the seven weekend series.
Below is a summary of each weekend series/game:
El Paso Rhinos (3-0-0, T-1st in Midwest Division) @ Dallas Snipers (3-5-0, T-1st in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Plano, Texas
The El Paso Rhinos opened up the season in fine fashion over the weekend, sweeping the Dallas Snipers on the road but by scores much closer than we’ve seen when these two have met in the past.
After Justin Becton’s goal, scored just 3:30 into the opener, gave the Snipers the early lead, it was all Rhinos, as the visitors scored five unanswered in a 5-1 victory.
The newly-acquired Dakota Beaulieu, who led the New Mexico Renegades in scoring last season and defenseman Brandon Edson each notched two points in the El Paso win, with Adam Vay stopping 23 of the 24 shots he faced in net.
Although their only goal was scored while on the man advantage, the Snipers went 0 for their next 12 on the power play and finished the game just 1-13, with El Paso scoring short-handed markers on two of those opportunities.
The power play struggles continued the next night for the Snipers, who looked solid during five-on-five play but couldn’t convert on any of their seven chances with the man advantage and fell by a score of 3-1.
Veteran forward David Nelson recorded an assist on all three Rhino goals, while Chad Cesarz, just back from a stint in the Tier II North American Hockey League, picked up a goal and an assist. Vay was once again the victor in net, allowing one goal on 28 shots faced.
Defenseman Trent Williams scored the lone goal for Dallas, which pulled them within one midway through the second period but that would be all they got, as goaltender Emil Eriksson was saddled with the loss, while stopping 34 of the 37 shots he faced.
The Snipers took the lead three separate times in the finale of the series, only to be answered by a Rhinos goal each time and Cesarz’ second of the game gave El Paso its first lead, which they held on to in a 4-3 win and series sweep.
Becton again led the Snipers with a goal and an assist but it was once again power play struggles that slowed them down, as they went 1-11 with the man advantage and the Rhinos used a strong third period, outshooting the Snipers 24-2 and scoring twice to get the win.
Along with Cesarz, defensemen Andrew Bradford and Chris Wilhite also collected two points each, while Vay completed the sweep in net, stopping 20 of 23 in his third win of the weekend.
The Rhinos started the way many though they would but it was much tougher than they could have imagined, as the Snipers put up a great fight.
Aaron Davis’ team looked impressive, despite now having lost five games in a row, as they showed an offense that can put the puck in the net, a defense that limited shots in every game but Sunday and goaltending that can keep them in games.
If they can get the power play working, they’ll be just fine, as this is by far the most talented team we’ve seen from them.
The Rhinos were their usual solid selves, playing great in all three zones and wearing the Snipers down as the weekend went along.
Their offense is as powerful is ever, their defense is stacked with veterans and if Vay can continue to play the way he did in net over the weekend, there’s not a lot of teams that will be able to beat them.
Texas Brahmas (3-2-0, T-1st in Midwest Division) @ Salt Lake City Moose (5-2-0, T-1st in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in West Valley City, Utah
The Texas Brahmas drew a lot of comparisons to the El Paso Rhinos after a 2-0-0 start but they ran into a hot team this weekend, losing two of three from the Salt Lake City Moose.
A team that was once a walkover, the Moose became competitive last year and so far this season, look nothing short of a contender for the Northwest Division crown.
With Jeff Carr retaining a hardworking group of veterans and putting a focus on conditioning, the Moose worked their tails off on home ice and used the larger Olympic ice surface to their advantage, picking up four out of a possible six points in what has to be considered the best weekend of hockey in the team’s short history.
Usually the team that gives up a ton of shots, the Moose threw 58 on Texas goaltender Shane Joyce in the opener and behind a strong third period, took game one by a score of 7-4.
Leading 3-2 heading into the final period of regulation, the Moose came out on fire and extended their lead to 5-2 just 3:45 in and held on for the victory despite a late push from the Brahmas.
Veteran forward Patrick Dwyer and newcomer Adam Kresl each had two goals and an assist in the Salt Lake victory, while Brett Meyer had the reverse, notching a goal and two assists. In net, it was Ryan Gasparovic picking up the win, stopping 29 of the 33 shots he faced.
The Brahmas may have been a bit weary after the long bus ride into town and took some time getting used to the Olympic sheet of ice but head coach Jeremy Law isn’t one for excuses, telling me that the Moose took it to them in the opener.
Nikita Salnikov and veteran Quade Hamlin each collected two points in the loss, while Joyce had a busy night of work, stopping 51 of 56 in net.
Carrying over their late game momentum from the night before, the Moose got off to a great start on Saturday night, jumping out to a 2-0 first period lead and extending it to three on Dan Veselovksy’s marker midway through the second period.
The Brahmas offense awoke shortly thereafter however, as they came back with three of their own, with Eric Lewis’ marker knotting it up early in the third period.
The two teams battled back and forth for nearly the entire third period but Meyer’s second of the game gave the Moose the lead for good with just 1:22 left, before Dwyer added an empty-netter to seal the deal in a 5-3 victory.
Again, it was the Moose’s ability to limit shots on net that carried them to victory, as Gasparovic faced just 19 shots and stopped 16 in his second-straight win in net.
The Brahmas were only really able to get going while on the power play, where they notched two of their three goals on the night and Joyce was once again a busy man in between the pipes, stopping 26 of 30 in the loss.
Looking for the sweep, the Moose once again jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead in the finale but this time, the Brahmas fought back and never went away, using a three-goal third period in a 5-4 win.
Veteran defenseman Jack Norling led the way with two goals, including the game-winner on the power play with 2:08 left on the clock, while Dalton Foster and Salnikov also tallied two points a-piece.
In net, it was Oliver Eklund coming in after a frustrated Joyce got ejected from the game and the Swede went on to stop 14 of 16 in the win.
Salt Lake once again outshot the Brahmas and seemed to play better at even strength but allowed three power play goals in the loss.
The veteran Dwyer once again had a great performance, leading the team with three points while Talon Miller took the loss in net, allowing five goals on 21 shots.
The Brahmas had a bit of a hiccough in Salt Lake City and it will be interesting to see how they respond. I don’t want to say they underestimated the Moose but they were definitely surprised on Friday night and didn’t fare much better on Saturday.
They seemed to regain a little bit of grit in Sunday’s victory and will need to retain that moving forward.
Much like the Dallas Snipers did, the Moose showed everyone just how far they’ve come and what kind of team they are.
Guys like Dwyer and Veselovsky no longer have to carry the load, as Jeff Carr’s team has a newfound depth that has enabled them to play the style they want for a full 60 minutes.
The defense has done a great job of limiting scoring chances and helping out their goaltenders, who have been solid, just not as busy as Alex Burdekin was over the last two years.
This was a statement weekend from the Moose and has put them on the map as a team that can beat anyone the league has to offer.
Fresno Monsters (5-1-0, 1st in Pacific Division) @ Lake Tahoe Blue (3-6-0, 3rd in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in South Lake Tahoe, California
It may have taken a little while but the Fresno Monsters finally got their revenge on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, taking two of three from the Lake Tahoe Blue over the weekend.
They didn’t get off to a great start in the opener however, as despite outshooting Lake Tahoe 45-29, the Blue tallied two goals in each period, en route to a 6-2 victory.
Edgars Homjakovs’ three assists led the way for the home team, as they picked up a win in their first-ever game at South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena.
Veteran Josh Mikes and Sebastian Forslund each notched a goal and an assist as well in the victory, while Troy Turpin stopped 43 of 45 in net.
Fresno trailed 3-0 before they got on the board on Austin Browning’s goal but allowed Lake Tahoe to come right back and re-gain a three-goal lead. Nico Wilton provided the other goal, while Jerry Kaukinen took the loss in net, allowing six goals on 29 shots.
Early on, game two looked like it would be more of the same, as a pair of veterans, Mark DeVaughn and Martin Vachal, scored first period goals to pace the Blue to a 2-0 lead.
Fresno got their roll started with a goal late in the opening frame to pull within one however and went on to score four more in a 5-3 win.
Justin Plate, just back from a stint with the Wenatchee Wild of the NAHL, led the way with two goals and an assist, while Cartel Dahl also notched two goals of his own.
Kaukinen played well in net and picked up the victory, stopping 27 of the 30 shots he faced.
After the solid opening frame, Lake Tahoe was outshot 35-21 over the final two periods and outscored 4-1, as their short bench definitely showed.
The Blue opened the scoring for the third straight game in the finale, as Adrian Schmidt got them out to a 1-0 lead but Fresno responded with three in-a-row and never relinquished the lead in a 6-4 win.
Showing a good deal of offensive depth, six different Monsters scored goals in the victory, with Mike Nolan collecting a team-high three points.
It was once again Kaukinen taking the win in net, stopping 26 of 30 and moving his record to 4-1-0 on the season.
Homjakovs, Schmidt and Vachal each notched a goal and an assist for Lake Tahoe, while Turpin took the loss in net, allowing six goals on 48 shots faced.
So the early season struggles continue for the Blue, especially without top forward Miguel Caron, who did not play over the weekend.
They’re still in need of some bodies and a few players returning from injury will help with that situation but they need to get going in a hurry, or fall too far behind. They have more than enough talent to do it and with guys like Vachal and DeVaughn are finding their groove, it shouldn’t be tough but but it needs to start this weekend against San Diego.
Fresno has look solid offensively over their first six games and now, with the return of Plate, they’re going to be even tougher to stop. Bryce Dale also has a large cast of veterans on the blue line and has found a horse in net, in Jerry Kaukinen.
The Monsters also seem to be playing a much less chippy style so far and it has done nothing but benefitted them, as they have the skill to skate with anyone.
Idaho Jr. Steelheads (5-0-0, T-1st in Northwest Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (0-2-0, 6th in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Medford, Oregon
With El Paso and Fresno putting together solid weekends, the Idaho Jr. Steelheads didn’t disappoint either, as a quick two-game sweep of the Southern Oregon Spartans has them sitting at a perfect 5-0-0.
Playing on the road in the Medford Madhouse is one of the tallest tasks for any WSHL to face but the Jr. Steelheads were very business-like in two typical performances, winning 5-1 and 7-2, while controlling each contest from start to finish.
Only Mike Kowicki’s power play goal, scored with just 59 seconds left in the game, kept the Spartans from getting shutout on home ice, as the Jr. Steelheads took game on by a score of 5-1.
Veteran forward Kirk Van Arkel collected a goal and three assists, all of which came while on the power play, while Dak Dice, Victor Carlsson and Kyle TenEyck each notched a pair of points in the Idaho win.
Sean Healy was solid yet again in net, stopping 19 of the 20 shots he faced, while seeing little action over the final two periods of play.
The Spartans got the Madhouse jumping early the next night when Justus Saldeen’s power play goal paced the home team to the early lead but as they always seem to do, Idaho responded in a big way, scoring the game’s next five goals and seven of eight overall, in a 7-2 smashing.
August Von Ungern-Sternberg, who recently committed to Brown University, had his best game of the young season, picking up three points in the win, while seven other Steelies collected two points each.
Again, it was Healy playing well in net, moving his record to 4-0-0 while stopping 23 of 25 while Ian Dvorak took the loss for the Spartans, facing 36 shots and stopping 29.
The Spartans may not have gotten the results they wanted but it was clearly apparent their new style under head coach Jeremy Bachusz is centered on discipline, as they didn’t run around or take bad penalties.
They’re not a team that’s going to back down from a good scrap and they certainly won’t be pushed around but this Spartans team plays hockey and once they get their wheels going, they should be battling for a playoff spot once again.
It’s just two weeks into the season but as usual, there’s just not a whole lot you can’t say about the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
Their offense is lethal, especially with the return of guys like Blasko and Dice from the NAHL, their defense just doesn’t make mistakes, moving the puck up ice with precision and their goaltender has been nearly unbeatable.
And if you can somehow find a way to stake with them at even strength, you better not take any penalties, as their power play is now 10 for 34 on the season.
Boulder Bison (3-2-0, 1st in Mountain Division) vs. Colorado Jr. Eagles (0-2-0, T-3rd in Mountain Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Fort Collins and Saturday in Superior, Colorado
The WSHL welcomed in its newest member on Friday night, as the Colorado Jr. Eagles took the ice for the first time and although they would go on to lose both games against the nearby Boulder Bison over the weekend, they didn’t look out of place for a second.
Playing at home on Friday night, the Jr. Eagles were welcomed to the league by the blazing speed of the Bison, who swarmed the entire game and skated off with a 4-1 victory.
Bryce Berthold and Ben Schwenk scored just 20 seconds apart late in the opening frame to pace the Bison to a 2-0 lead, before Tyler Duhadway notched the first goal in Jr. Eagles’ history with 30 seconds left in first period to pull the home team within one.
The Bison controlled play through the second period and outshot the Jr. Eagles 15-8 but neither team was able to find twine in the middle frame but Chad Lopez’ goal made it 3-1 in favor of the Bison just 3:14 into the third and Greg Sodbinow’s empty netter sealed the win late.
Colin Champine picked up the win net for Boulder, stopping 20 of the 21 shots he faced, while Quinn Wold took the loss for the Jr. Eagles, allowing three goals on 29 shots.
The two teams revved it up again the next night but with the Bison playing hosts and rude ones, at that, as they pulled away late in a 7-3 victory.
Leading 1-0 after the opening period, the Bison notched three goals in both the second and third periods and limited the Jr. Eagles to just 26 shots on goal in the victory.
Showing some offensive depth that they may have lacked last season, seven different Bison scored goals in the victory, with Chris Lupinski’s three points leading the charge. Champine started and won his second game in as many nights, allowing three goals on 26 shots.
Nick Davidson had a goal and an assist to lead the Jr. Eagles, who played well in each game of the series and didn’t get dominated like you see a lot of first-year teams do in their opening weekend. Local product Tage Rustgi was hit with the loss in net, stopping 31 of the 38 shots he saw.
Some may look at it as two losses, regardless of how they came but I know Jr. Eagles head coach Steve Haddon is happy with the way his team competed against a very good hockey team.
The Jr. Eagles may struggle a bit to score goals but they looked solid defensively and played within their limits. If they can stick to the plan and get some rookies to find their way, they’ll be competitive in the Mountain Division all season.
Boulder did exactly what they had to do and picked up four points on the weekend while helping out their goaltender much more than they did against the Phoenix Knights last time out.
They’ll also need to find some scorers but they too are a young team and players will step-up and help shoulder the load as the season goes along.
Long Beach Bombers (0-5-0, T-5th in Pacific Division) vs. Valencia Flyers (2-0-0, 4th in Pacific Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Valencia and Saturday in Lakewood, California
The Valencia Flyers opened their season and coaching tenure of Josh Berge in a big way, as they swept a home-and-home series from the longtime rival Long Beach Bombers.
Playing against a hungry team that was swept by the Fresno Monsters last weekend, the Flyers used their speed to cause problems for the Bombers in both games and scored a combined 14 goals over the two victories.
Adam Papayoanou scored a goal in each period of Friday night’s contest, including the game-winner that came just 1:03 into the second period and an empty-netter late to ice a 6-4 victory.
Papayoanou finished the night with four points, while veteran forward Austin Ehrlich picked up three in the win. In net, it was Mark Beloded exacting some revenge on the team that traded him to Valencia just two weeks earlier, stopping 21 of 25 in the win.
Long Beach was led by Marcus Vitanen’s three assists and also got two goals from forward Konstantin Kotkov, who’s gotten off to a great start in his first season of North American hockey.
Daniel Cepila tenure in Long Beach hasn’t gotten off to the greatest start, as the former Cheyenne Stampede star was pulled after allowing five goals on 14 shots and took the loss in net, dropping to 0-4-0 on the season.
Everything came in pairs the next night but with the game tied at six late in the final period of regulation, it was the Flyers tallying twice to take the 8-6 win.
Wade Wylie and David Min scored 3:20 apart early in the opening period to get Valencia out to a 2-0 lead but the Bombers responded with two of their own, as Kotkov and Jack Kelly knotted the game before the end of the first.
Zach Paxman and Luc Whyte began the second period with goals for the visitors but Kotkov and Marcus Rhodin evened the game for Long Beach, only to have Ehrlich and Will Barnett answer back to make it 6-4 in favor of Valencia after 40 minutes of play.
The Bombers came out on fire to begin the third and scored twice, as Tomas Nemeth’s power play goal pulled them within one, before Kotkov’s third of the night tied it up.
With time trickling down in regulation, the Flyers took the lead for good on an unassisted marker from Ehrlich at 17:17 and finished it off with an empty-netter by Jared Waldman.
In total, five Valencia players enjoyed multi-point games, led by Whyte’s three, while Kotkov, Rhodin and Filip Martinec each collected four points in the loss for the Bombers.
Making his first start of the season, Jake Ireland got the win in net for Valencia, stopping 28 of 34, while Austin Alarcon gave Cepila the night off in the Long Beach crease but didn’t fare much better, allowing seven goals on 31 shots.
A slow start can be overcome but the Bombers just have too much talent at every position to be 0-5-0.
I got a chance to watch most of the game on Friday night and it was obvious the bounces were just not going their way, just as they weren’t against Fresno the weekend before.
Knowing Chris White, this won’t be a fun week of practice for the Bombers, who will have to get going soon, as they continue with their next seven games against Pacific Division opponents.
On the flip side of the slow start for Long Beach, the Valencia Flyers and head coach Josh Berge have to be ecstatic with their start to the season.
With just two returners on the roster and a lot of young blood, the Flyers fought hard in both wins and used their speed and tenacity to compete with the skilled Bombers.
It only gets tougher from here on out for them, especially with a trip to McCall for three with the Idaho Jr. Steelheads on the docket this weekend but if they just keep playing hard and stay within their limits, they’ll be a tough team to play against.
Ontario Avalanche (4-1-0, 2nd in Pacific Division) vs. San Diego Gulls (0-2-0, T-5th in Pacific Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Escondido and Saturday in Ontario, California
The other home-and-home series in the Pacific Division over the weekend featured the veteran-heavy Ontario Avalanche, as they took on a ripe San Diego Gulls squad.
The Avs carried play in both games, showing great offensive depth and a stifling defense in a pair of solid victories.
In the opener, Zechariah Roberts and Luke Rendino each collected three points, while Brett Norman scored twice, helping lead the Avalanche to a 5-2 win.
The Avs scored the game’s first three goals and were solid defensively in front of goaltender Chris Skeates, who stopped 32 of 34 in the win.
Michael Leone and Eric Baldwin scored the two goals for San Diego, while Eric Eideissen took the loss in net, getting pulled in favor of Colln Mann after allowing four goals on 27 shots.
Ontario looked even more impressive the next night on home ice, as they raced out to a 4-0 first period lead and continued on to win it 6-0.
Antoine Maillard, Joe Cangelosi, Calle Hallberg and Kevin Leuenberger each collected a pair of points to lead the Avs and former Long Beach Bomber, Drake Koegel, picked up the shutout win in net, stopping all 20 shots he faced.
At the other end of the spectrum was Eideissen yet again, who was pulled for the seconds straight night after allowing four first period goals on 13 shots in the loss.
The Gulls and head coach Craig Carlyle knew there would be some work to do but they just couldn’t find a way to get anything going in either game against a team they’ll be battling for a playoff spot with all season.
It will be interesting to see how the goaltending situation plays out going forward, as they’ve had Reed Kinsey to rely upon the last couple of years and are going to face some growing pains with two unproven guys fighting for minutes. There is still plenty of talent on the roster and Carlyle knows how to get the most out of his guys, so look for them to bounce back against Lake Tahoe this weekend.
Ontario is now off to a 4-1-0 start and has looked very good in doing so.
They aren’t going to awe with high-end skill but Chris Shaw has four forward lines that can do it all and six defensemen that know how to play in his system.
Their goaltending was thought to be a question mark coming into the season but Skeates and Koegel have looked good, despite not having to work that hard.
They have this weekend off, before coming back with a home-and-home against the Long Beach Bombers.
Hockey Wolf Three Stars of the Week
1. Patrick Dwyer (Forward, Salt Lake City Moose)- The Salt Lake City Moose’s top scorer last season, Patrick Dwyer hasn’t had to carry the load quite as much in his second year with the team, as head coach Jeff Carr has put together a deep group of forwards. That doesn’t mean the Moose no longer rely on the diminutive forward for offense however and he played a big part in their great weekend against the Texas Brahmas, collecting four goals and three assists and helping Salt Lake City pick up four out of a possible six points.
2. Konstantin Kotkov (Forward, Long Beach Bombers)- The Long Beach Bombers haven’t gotten off to the kind of start they would have liked but Russian forward Konstantin Kotkov has looked just fine. In two losses to Valencia over the weekend, Kotkov was one of the Bombers’ few bright spots, picking up five goals and an assist and now leads all rookies with eight goals on the season.
3. Adam Vay (Goaltender, El Paso Rhinos)- The El Paso Rhinos struggled to find solid goaltending last season, as head coach Cory Herman shuffled through six different netminders in a span of just a few months. If week one of the 2013-2014 season is any indication, Herman won’t have that problem this time around, as Adam Vay was excellent, starting and picking up the win in all three of the Rhinos victories over the Dallas Snipers.
Honorable Mentions: Chad Cesarz (El Paso Rhinos), David Nelson (El Paso Rhinos), Justin Becton (Dallas Snipers), Colin Champine (Boulder Bison), Nick Davidson (Colorado Jr. Eagles), Mike Nolan (Fresno Monsters), Justin Plate (Fresno Monsters), Edgars Homjakovs (Fresno Monsters), Kirk Van Arkel (Idaho Jr. Steelheads), Kyle TenEyck (Idaho Jr. Steelheads), Mike Kowicki (Southern Oregon Spartans), Adam Papayoanou (Valencia Flyers), Austin Ehrlich (Valencia Flyers), Filip Martinec (Long Beach Bombers), Marcus Rhodin (Long Beach Bombers), Zechariah Roberts (Ontario Avalanche), Nikita Salnikov (Texas Brahmas), Brett Meyer (Salt Lake City Moose), Ryan Gasparovic (Salt Lake City Moose)
Be sure to check back on Thursday, as we preview week four of WSHL action!
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications of the Western States Hockey League