Below is a summary of each weekend series/game:
Salt Lake City Moose (17-9-2, 3rd in Northwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (6-20-0, 5th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Salt Lake City Moose kept pace with the two teams ahead of them in the Northwest Division over the weekend, as they made the long trip to Tulsa and picked up a clean sweep of the Jr. Oilers.
The Moose used their speed and depth to overpower the Jr. Oilers throughout most of the weekend and set the tone early in Friday’s opener with three first period goals, as Brett Meyer, Adam Kresl and Pat Dwyer paced the visitors to a 3-0 lead.
After falling behind 4-0 early in the second period, Tulsa did manage to get back within two and make a game of it, as Kyle Traux notched one late in the middle frame and leading scorer Devan Beck did the same early in the third.
Salt Lake City never took its foot off the pedal however and wound up with a 5-2 victory in a game that probably wouldn’t have been close, if not for the goaltending of Eric Messer, who stopped 57 of 62 in the loss for Tulsa.
At the other end of the ice, Brad Robertson faced just 22 shots in net for the Moose and stopped all but two in the victory.
Although shots were much closer the next night, the score was not, as six different players scored for Salt Lake City and Ryan Gasparovic stopped all 21 shots he faced in a 6-0 shutout victory.
Tulsa played a much stronger defensive game and only gave up 38 shots on goal but couldn’t muster any sort of offense to build off, as Adam Salisbury took the loss in net.
In the finale, the Moose once again used a strong first period to get out to an early lead and never looked back in a 6-1 win to complete the sweep.
Veterans Cole Corson and Hank Parra each notched two goals for the Moose, while Tyler Keturi and Jurijs Moiseicenko each picked up three assists.
Brad Robertson allowed just one goal on 25 shots faced in his second victory of the weekend in net, while Eric Messer got in a great workout, facing 70 shots and doing well to stop 64 of them in the loss.
The Moose continue to play solid fundamental hockey and controlled all three zones in all three games over the weekend. Traveling long distance is always tough, no matter who you play and they did well to pick up six points.
Outside of Saturday’s game, Tulsa once again struggled to help out their goaltenders, who both played pretty well while constantly under fire. With the Dallas Snipers picking up a couple more points over the weekend, the Jr. Oilers’ playoff hopes are quickly diminishing.
San Diego Gulls (8-22-2, 6th in Western Division) @ Texas (15-12-2, 3rd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in North Richland Hills, Texas
Coming off of a strong effort at the Western States Shootout, where they finally were able to find some chemistry, Texas opened up their second half at home and took care of business with wins in three tight games against the San Diego Gulls.
Friday night’s opener was a streaky game for both teams, as Texas opened up with three first period goals, only to see the Gulls pull within one with two goals of their own in the second period.
Texas then opened up the third period with two straight goals to extend its lead to 5-2 but once again, San Diego scored two quick ones to get back within one. That would be the way it ended however, as Texas held off a late surge in a 5-4 victory.
Veteran forward Dalton Foster, who started off the season on fire but has since cooled off, led Texas with three points on the night, while Drew DePalma did the same to lead the Gulls.
It was a battle of Swedes in between the pipes and Oliver Eklund of Texas outlasted Erik Eidissen of San Diego, as the veteran stopped 21 of 25 in the win, while the rookie Eidissen stopped 39 of 44 in the loss.
Will Parker’s goal 44 seconds into the third period of game two completed a comeback for San Diego and tied the game at four.
Outplayed for most of the period, Texas responded late to take the lead for good however, as Miguel Caron, who is showing signs of breaking out, put one home at 14:29, before an empty-netter just over five minutes later by Austin Murray sealed the deal in a 6-4 Texas victory.
Murray finished the game with five points to lead Texas, while Caron added two goals and an assist. Ryan Mulka picked up the win in net, stopping 40 of the 44 shots he faced.
Brody Cavataio suffered the loss in net for the Gulls, as the rookie netminder allowed five goals on 41 shots, while Will Parker’s three points led the way offensively.
Staying consistent with the way the previous two games went, the finale on Sunday was back and forth throughout but Miguel Caron’s second goal of the game, scored 10:41 into the third period, was enough to lift Texas to a 3-2 win and series sweep.
Skating a couple of players short for the second straight day, the Gulls finally started to show some wear in the game but did a good job to hang around as long as they did, being outshot heavily for most of the contest.
Caron had the two big goals for Texas but Michael Brown figured in all three goals for the home team, assisting on both of Caron’s markers and notching one of his own.
Veteran forward Eric Baldwin assisted on both San Diego goals in the loss.
The two Swedes battled it out in net once more and it was again Eklund getting the better of Eidissen, albeit facing much fewer shots. Eklund stopped 24 of 26 in the win, while Eidissen allowed three goals on 54 shots and played very well in the loss.
San Diego played well after traveling all that way and put up a fight in each game, despite playing with a short bench. Still entrenched in the Western Division cellar, the Gulls will look to play spoiler down the stretch and throw a wrench into the playoff hopes for some, while looking to build for the future themselves.
Texas looked strong after finally putting everything together at the showcase and now have the super-talented Caron heating up, which will only mean good things for their offense moving forward.
El Paso Rhinos (23-2-0, 1st in Midwest Division) @ Phoenix Knights (18-8-2, 1st in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Chandler, Arizona
The El Paso Rhinos put a less than stellar showcase behind them for good over the weekend, as they went into Phoenix and handed the suddenly flailing Knights three more losses, with two coming in overtime.
Friday night’s opener was as even of a game as you will see, as the two division leaders went back and forth all night with shots, scoring chances and special teams play nearly identical.
Knotted up at four after 60 minutes of play, the two teams headed to overtime and just 1:16 in, it was Tom Bartel providing the game-winner for El Paso off an assist from Matthew Plesa.
Plesa finished the game with four points to lead all skaters, while Robert Smith picked up a goal, which forced overtime and an assist, to lead the Knights.
Adam Vay was steady in net for the Rhinos once more, stopping 31 of 35 in the victory, while Alex Taylor also stopped 31 shots but faced one more than Vay’s 35 and took the loss for Phoenix.
Leading 3-1 late in the third period of game two, El Paso allowed Phoenix to pull within one on a Jordan Cullum goal but responded just 20 seconds later to take a three-goal lead back on Andrew Bradford’s second of the game and iced it at 15:47 on a Peter Plesa marker, in a 5-2 victory.
Cullum finished the game with a goal and an assist to lead Phoenix, while Andrew Bradford, Matthew Plesa, Peter Plesa, Chad Cesarz and David Nelson each collected a pair of points, as El Paso once again showed their tremendous depth at the forward position.
Formerly of the Lake Tahoe Blue, Olivier Gervais gave Vay the night off in the El Paso crease and stopped 31 of 33 in the victory, while Taylor, seeing the bulk of the minutes with Troy Anderson recovering from an injury, stopped 24 of 29 in the loss.
The Knights looked poised to stop their slide in the finale, as Colin Bresnehan, Shane Fitzpatrick and Jordan Cullum each tallied to pace the home team to a 3-0 lead.
El Paso responded in a big way however, getting second period goals from Chad Cesarz and Adrian Schmidt, before Andrew Bradford knotted things up 35 seconds into the third.
Just 43 seconds later, the Knights showed their resiliency and took the lead back on a goal by forward Max Mahood but before the celebration was even over, the Rhinos had tied it again, as David Nelson potted one just 28 seconds after Mahood.
Phoenix controlled most of the third period and looked like they might pull out the regulation win a couple of times but for the second time in three days, the two teams headed instead for overtime.
The Knights were once again on the attack for most of the four-on-four period but couldn’t convert and just 1:18 into the three-on-three extra period, Tom Bartel played overtime hero again and lifted the Rhinos to the win and series sweep.
The Knights outshot the Rhinos 48-34 but the biggest difference in the game may have been the power play, as Phoenix was only able to convert on one of their eight chances.
Four players from each team enjoyed multi-point games in the finale and Adam Vay outlasted Troy Anderson, fresh off of the injured reserve list, for the victory in net, as the big Hungarian stopped 44 of 48 and Anderson 29 of 34.
It was huge for El Paso to get right back on track after the small hiccough they had in Las Vegas, as they showed why they went undefeated for so long and have now beaten some very good teams.
When they get all things working and can stay out of the box, they can rival anyone in the league.
Phoenix has now failed to pick up a win over their last six outings but still hold a firm grasp on the top spot in the Mountain Division.
They’ll have this weekend off to pick up the pieces, before hosting the Colorado Jr. Eagles, January 24-26.
Arizona Redhawks (10-17-1, 5th in Mountain Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (4-24-0, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
The playoff picture in the Mountain Division is as fuzzy as can be and with teams like Phoenix and Boulder faltering, the Arizona Redhawks looked to take advantage of it but were only able to win two of three on the road against New Mexico over the weekend.
The New Mexico Renegades came into the weekend series averaging just over a goal per game but managed to get four in the opener but any time you get into a shootout with Arizona, it’s going to be tough to win, as their top line is as good as any and helped carry them to an 8-4 win.
Mitch Cobby and Oscar Hagborg Olsson each notched four points in the victory, while the third member of the “King” line, Mattias Marten, added a goal.
The Redhawks also showed some depth however, as Chance Taylor, a player that has the talent to chip in regularly, scored twice in the victory.
Four different players scored goals for New Mexico, with former Redhawk Connor Rickabus notching two assists.
In net, Colton Pankiw stopped 16 of 20 in the victory for Arizona, while Brendan Hanser allowed eight goals on 47 shots in the New Mexico loss.
Arizona was able to hold the Renegades offense in check the next night and jumped out to a 4-0 lead, with all four goals coming off assists from Mitch Cobby, before cruising to a 6-1 win.
With Cobby’s four helpers, three points from Hagborg Olsson and two goals from Marten, the King line was once again in full effect for Arizona, while Chance Taylor provided even more depth, adding two goals for the second straight game.
Anton Melin, another skilled Swedish forward that will be relied upon to contribute scoring depth, added three points of his own, as well. Former Phoenix Knights goaltender David Deadman got the win in net for the Redhawks, stopping 24 of the 25 shots he faced.
Veteran forward Zach Comfort notched the lone goal of the game for the Renegades, while John Groth allowed six goals on 50 shots and took the loss in net.
Outshot by nearly double in the finale, the Renegades received excellent goaltending from Groth, who stopped all but two of the 67 shots he faced and Comfort notched two goals, both of which were produced by Damond Brokke, to lead the home team to a 4-2 victory.
Arizona swarmed for most of the game but had trouble solving Groth, who made big save after big save. A goal by Hagborg Olsson was the only point from the King line in the loss.
Pankiw was hit with the loss in net, as he allowed four goals on 36 shots in between the pipes for Arizona.
The Redhawks still sit just beyond a playoff spot but with the depth they showed on Friday and Saturday combined with the way the King line has played all season, they should feel really good about what’s to come if they can keep it going.
New Mexico is looking for any positives in the second half of the season with the playoffs well out of sight and Groth gave a big one to them in Sunday’s win.
Valencia Flyers (16-9-3, 4th in Western Division) @ Lake Tahoe Blue (17-15-2, 3rd in Western Division)
Three-game series in South Lake Tahoe, California
With a couple of new additions in the lineup, the Valencia Flyers made the trip north to the resort town of Lake Tahoe to face the rival Lake Tahoe Blue. Behind their depth and tenacity, the Flyers were able to pick up two big wins and now sit just a point behind the Blue for third place in the division.
Valencia had to fight back a couple of times in the series opener, as they trailed 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 before eventually tying it on an early third period goal from Zach Paxman.
Continuing their attack for most of the third period against the top-heavy Blue, the Flyers took the lead for good just four minutes after tying it, as Adam Papayoanou made it 5-4 with his goal at 9:08 and the Flyers held on to win by the same score.
Five different Flyers scored goals in the victory, including captain Austin Ehrlich, who led the way with three points on the night. Branislav Kost and Martin Vachal each notched three points for Lake Tahoe in the loss.
In net, it was Luke Thompson picking up the win in his first game with Valencia, as he took over for Mark Becica after the opening period and stopped all but one of the 25 shots he faced from then on
Troy Turpin was hit with the loss for the Blue, as he faced 48 shots, 24 of which came in the third period alone and allowed five to get by him.
Ehrlich’s second goal of the weekend paced Valencia to a 1-0 lead just 1:11 into the opening period of game two but Lake Tahoe came roaring back to score three straight and six of the next seven, in a 6-2 victory.
Sebastian Forslund scored two goals for the Blue, while Branislav Kost, Nick Anderson and Tim Ahlin also collected two points each.
Jakub Novotny was the victor in net for the Blue, stopping 33 of 35 and helping his team thwart 13 Flyer power play chances, while Thompson took the loss for Valencia, stopping 28 of 34 shots faced.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period of the finale, it was the Flyers rattling off three straight goals and staying strong down the stretch in a 5-3 win.
Defenseman Niklas Giers and forwards Blake Aguilar and Jakob Kranabetter each scored a goal and an assist for Valencia, while Martin Vachal’s two goals led Lake Tahoe.
The Flyers converted on two of their 10 power play opportunities in the victory and four of 36 (not a typo) over the weekend.
Mark Becica was solid in net for the Flyers and stopped 25 of 28 in the win, while Novotny stopped 26 of 30 in between the pipes for Lake Tahoe.
The Blue lost a couple of players to suspension over the weekend and already having a short bench to begin with, they had trouble keeping up with the pesky Flyers, who just never seem to go away.
The Flyers just continue to do all of the little things well and looked even stronger with a couple of key roster additions providing some depth at each position.
Although they are currently in a playoff position, Lake Tahoe has played the most games in the division and could be in for a battle to make the post-season with teams like Long Beach heating up behind them.
Fresno Monsters (23-4-1, 1st in Western Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (9-18-3, 6th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Medford, Oregon
For the second straight season, the Fresno Monsters played an inter-division series in Medford against the Southern Oregon Spartans and they appeared much more comfortable in front of the rowdy crowd this time around, picking up three wins and looking very good in doing so.
The Monsters didn’t look great early on in the opener on Friday night however, as they quickly fell behind by two goals. They responded in a big way however and fought back to tie the game, before eventually taking the lead in the third period and winning by a score of 6-4.
Fiip Winkler, a big Czech forward that was great for the Monsters last season but has yet to come on in year two with the club, finally found his groove, scoring a hat trick and adding an assist to lead Fresno in the victory.
Cory Sikich, just back from a lengthy stint in the North American Hockey League, Mike Fabie, Anthony Pena and Jordan Fontaine each added two points for Fresno.
Ben Henry led Southern Oregon with two assists, as four different Spartans scored goals in the loss.
Matthew Soldano got a rare start in net for Fresno and did well for himself, stopping 29 of 33 in his first win of the season, while Ian Dvorak didn’t fare so well at the other end, allowing five goals on 45 shots in the loss.
It was all Fresno in the middle game of the series, as the Monsters took control from the outset and never relinquished it in a 7-0 lashing.
The Monsters outshot Southern Oregon 46-16 and had 10 power play chances on the night, with forward Evan Ingram’s five points leading the way and Jerry Kaukinen picking up the shutout victory in net.
Dvorak took the loss again for the Spartans, allowing five goals on 22 shots before being pulled early in the second period.
Southern Oregon bounced back nicely in the finale and put together one of their most complete efforts of the season but came up just short, losing 5-4 in overtime as Fresno finished the sweep.
The two teams went back and forth answering each goal for goal all game, with Arturs Buss’ power play marker with 2:02 left in regulation forcing overtime for the Spartans.
Late in the first extra period however, it was veteran forward Justin Plate providing the game-winner for the Monsters, with an assist going to defenseman Gunnar Dircks, who finished with a game-high three points.
Ben Henry and Carl Edstrom each notched a pair of points to lead the Spartans in the heartbreaking loss.
Starting his second game of both the weekend and season, rookie netminder Matthew Soldano picked up the win for Fresno, stopping 35 of the 39 shots he faced. Jiri Ponikelsky played well enough to win for Southern Oregon but was instead hit with the overtime loss after stopping 33 of 38.
Fresno continues to cruise and have now won seven of their last eight games, with the only team really having their number this season being the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
With a couple of veterans back and forwards like Winkler finding their way, the Monsters are only growing scarier.
The Spartans have now lost seven of their last eight games and are going to have to fight for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Northwest Division with former NORPAC rivals Seattle and Missoula.
Dallas Snipers (12-15-2, 4th in Midwest Division) @ Colorado Jr. Eagles (13-10-2, 3rd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Fort Collins, Colorado
In a series pitting two of the most similar teams you will find against one another, the Colorado Jr. Eagles used their home ice advantage to take two of three from the visiting Dallas Snipers, moving the expansion franchise all the way up to third place in the Mountain Division.
The Jr. Eagles benefitted from what was surely a road-weary Snipers squad in the opener on Friday, as they outshot the visitors 35-16 and pulled away late in a 5-2 victory.
Trailing 3-1 early in the third period, Alexander Yunonov put one home to pull Dallas within a goal but the Jr. Eagles responded just a few minutes later on a power play goal from Jackson Wallis and sealed it late thanks to a marker from Luke Galatiuk.
Quinn Wold picked up the win in a light night of work for Colorado, stopping 14 of the 16 shots he faced, while Emil Eriksson got hung with the loss for Dallas, allowing five goals on 35 shots.
Playing very strong defensively the next night, the Snipers put forth a much better effort and behind a 27-save shutout from Eriksson, cruised to a 4-0 victory.
The newly acquired Konstantin Ljubobratets picked up his first two goals as a Sniper in the victory, while Aaron Krominga and Emil Melin each tallied two assists.
Wold stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced in the loss for Colorado, with the fourth Dallas goal going into an empty net.
Nick Davison and Konstantin Ljubobratets traded goals in the opening frame on Sunday and things were tied at one with 8:40 left before the intermission.
The Jr. Eagles took over and controlled the last 48:40 of the game and scored four unanswered goals in a 5-1 win.
Levi Weber’s two goals led the way for Colorado, while Kyle Arenson and Jackson Wallis each collected two assists. In net, Tage Rustgi saw his first action of the weekend and got the win, stopping all but one of the 26 shots he faced.
Nick Ross got the start in net for Dallas and struggled, stopping just 17 of the 22 shots he saw in his first action in quite some time.
The four points for Colorado bode huge, as they have now moved ahead of the Boulder Bison and into third place in the division, which would be very beneficial should they find a way to hold onto it.
If they continue to play solid team hockey, focus on defense and get good goaltending like they have, they not only will make the playoffs but will also be a threat once they get there.
Although they only picked up one win on the weekend, the Dallas Snipers didn’t play all that poorly.
In fact, I thought their defensive play was much improved and they just struggled to generate offense and find the back of the net.
Pretty much locked into the fourth spot in the Midwest Division, the Snipers have a lot to work on but are still a team that can jump up and bite you.
Ogden Mustangs (21-8-2, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Seattle Totems (10-14-2, 5th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Mountlake Terrace, Washington
A team on the rise and looking to gain steam, the Ogden Mustangs opened their second half with an impressive sweep on the road over the division rival Seattle Totems.
The Mustangs quickly made their presence felt in game one, rattling off four first period goals to take control of the contest, before breezing on to an 8-2 win.
Ogden outshot Seattle 67-33 and were led by Craig Moore’s four points, while Schuyler Seyfert and George Babos each added three.
Frank Flight and Robin Bjoernstad, two of Seattle’s most consistent performers, scored the goals for the Totems in the loss.
Tyler Fallica turned aside 31 of the 33 shots he faced in the Ogden crease, while Bryce Fink stopped 37 of 44 for Seattle, before being pulled in favor of Cody Stein.
Ogden again got off to a great start in game two, jumping out to a 2-0 lead and looking well on their way to another landslide victory but Seattle played much better and held it to a 5-1 Mustangs victory.
Swedish forward Simon Teodorsson picked up a hat trick in the victory, while Brody Decker notched three assists.
Connor Webb stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced in net for Ogden, before giving way to Niall Quinn for the last 10 minutes of the game. Fink was once again hung out to dry far too often and took the loss while stopping 45 of 50 for Seattle.
Things looked promising for Seattle after 20 minutes of play in the finale, as they led 3-0 behind two goals from Eric Danna and another from Jacob Stonecipher.
Two of Ogden’s most skilled forwards, Jimmy Peplinski and Dusty Watt, each notched a power play goal in the second period to pull the visiting Mustangs within a goal but Sergey Kuznetsov extended Seattle’s lead back to two before the end of the middle frame.
Ogden then came out flying to start the third period and never slowed up, outshooting the Totems 22-2 and notching five unanswered goals to come from behind and win 7-4.
Ogden’s leading scorer, Dusty Watt, and Brody Decker each finished the game with three points to lead the Stangs, while Kuznetsov, Danna and Nikolay Mamadzhanov each tallied a pair of points for Seattle.
In net, Tyler Fallica took over for Niall Quinn after he allowed three first period goals and went on to get the victory, stopping all but one of the 13 shots he faced. Cody Stein was under siege all game for Seattle and the netminder did well to stop 57 of 64, while still getting hit with the loss.
With Idaho ahead of them and continuing to win games and Salt Lake City doing the same behind them, the three wins for Ogden were huge and many took notice of how strong they played, including Seattle head coach Mike Murphy, who took to Twitter to call the Mustangs the best team his Totems have seen. Quite the complement from the coach of a team that has already played the three-time defending champion Jr. Steelheads this season.
Murphy’s Totems are still in the middle of the hunt for the fourth and final playoff spot but have to do something to separate themselves from Missoula and Southern Oregon. They have the advantage in the goaltending department, with Fink always giving them a chance but they must find a way to help him out.
Idaho Jr. Steelheads (28-3-0, 1st in Northwest Division) @ Missoula Maulers (11-13-3, 4th in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Missoula, Montana
The Idaho Jr. Steelheads made the short jaunt over to Missoula over the weekend and quickly cooled down what was the hottest team in the league, taking both games from the host Maulers.
Game one was all Idaho, as the Jr. Steelheads showcased their usual puck possession and controlled play in all three zones in a 5-1 victory.
Five different Steelies scored goals, including Kyle Williams, who also added an assist, as Idaho also showed off their tremendous depth, while outshooting the home team 46-19.
Sean Healy continued his superb play in net, stopping all but one of the 19 shots he faced for the Jr. Steelheads.
Tyler Zandhuisen scored the lone goal for the Maulers and the red-hot Sebastian Gronborg was handed the loss after allowing three goals on 27 shots, before eventually being pulled in favor of Michael McDaniel.
Showing why they were able to rattle off seven straight wins, Missoula came back the next night and played great and even outshot the Jr. Steelheads, 31-30.
Randy Patzner’s goal late in regulation broke a 1-1 tie however and Idaho escaped with a 2-1 victory to sweep the short two-game set.
Danny Kowalski gave Healy a night off in the Idaho crease and played very well, stopping 30 of 31 in the win, while McDaniel returned to the pipes for Missoula after taking over for Gronborg the night before and stopped 27 of 29 in the loss.
Two more wins for Idaho have them in full control of the division and looking a whole lot like they have the last three years at this point and you know how each of those seasons ended.
Missoula fell flat on Friday night but showed their resiliency with a strong effort on Saturday. Their offense, including leading scorers Cory Schafer and Erich Jaeger, were shadowed every time they touched the ice and they struggled to find room because of it.
Still playing good hockey, the Maulers look like the best bet to come out of the group that consists of them, Southern Oregon and Seattle, to grab the fourth and final playoff spot in the Northwest Division but anything can happen and anyone can get hot in a hurry.
Boulder Bison (13-14-0, 4th in Mountain Division) vs. Cheyenne Stampede (15-12-2, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Cheyenne, Wyoming and Saturday in Superior, Colorado
The Boulder Bison’s struggles continued over the weekend in another home-and-home series against the Cheyenne Stampede, as two more losses now pushes their losing streak to eight and has dropped them all the way down to fourth place in the division.
Leading 3-1 after a Chad Lopez goal at 8:01 of the second period on Friday night in Cheyenne, the Bison looked on their way to ending the skid and turning the momentum around.
All Cheyenne did was come back to score four goals over the last 8:48 of the period to take a 5-3 lead and held on to win it 5-4 after Kevin Behrens pulled the Bison within one in the third.
The strong play of Heath Lantz helped spark the comeback, as the veteran forward picked up two goals and an assist on the night, which helped get the Stampede rumbling. Defenseman Greg Sodbinow had two assists to lead Boulder in the loss.
The comeback was made even more surprising because it came against Boulder Colin Champine, who has historically had the Stampede’s number and is considered one of the top goaltenders in the league.
In all, the Bison netminder stopped 29 of 34 in the loss, while Rasmus Hansson allowed four goals on 27 shots in the win.
Returning home the next night, the Bison fell behind early after Ian Teal got Cheyenne out to an early lead but Boulder twice fought back to take the lead.
Leading 3-2 late in the second period, the Bison allowed the Stampede to knot things up on a Jimmie Kotilainen marker and headed into the third tied at three.
The two teams battled it out in the third, with the visiting Stampede getting the majority of the chances but things looked destined for overtime with time winding down.
With just six seconds left before the end of regulation, Russell Armbruster found twine for Cheyenne and the Stampede beat the Bison for the fourth straight time, this one ending 4-3.
Kotilainen’s two goals led the way for Cheyenne, while Hansson picked up his second win in as many nights in net, stopping 22 of the 25 shots he saw.
Hunter Behrens’ two helpers led the Bison but Brandon Yinger was hit with the loss in net, allowing four goals on 41 shots.
In the midst of their longest losing streak in franchise history, the Bison are starting to beat themselves a bit, as they start to grip their stick a little tight.
They have plenty of skill and speed but are getting in their own way, letting leads slip away, making untimely mistakes and failing to take advantage of their opportunities, which is very unlike them.
Now all the way down to fourth in the division, the Bison have to get back to their winning ways soon or may even be in trouble of dropping out of a playoff spot completely, which would be unthinkable for such a strong franchise.
The Stampede seem to be playing much better with the monkey off their back, as they have now picked up four straight wins over a team that has dominated them in both the regular season and playoffs over the last two seasons.
They were able to use their size and tenacity to comeback on Friday night and a big third period on Saturday to pick up the road win.
Now up in second place, the Stampede have their sights set on the Phoenix Knights, who are also in the middle of a rough patch.
Ontario Avalanche (19-8-3, 2nd in Western Division) vs. Long Beach Bombers (14-17-0, 5th in Western Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Lakewood and Saturday in Ontario, California
In the geographically closest home-and-home series in the league, the Long Beach Bombers and Ontario Avalanche split their two games in sunny Southern California over the weekend.
The Bombers protected their home ice on Friday night, getting two third period goals from the WSHL’s leading scorer, Filip Martinec, to break a 1-1 tie and win by a score of 3-1.
Both of Martinec’s goals came via assists from linemate Tomas Nemeth, who currently sits third in league scoring.
Johan Beatty, another import forward that is really starting to come on for Long Beach, scored the other Bombers goal and Talon Miller stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced in the win.
The lone Ontario goal came from their leading scorer, Swiss forward Antoine Maillard, while former Bomber Drake Koegel took the loss in net, stopping only three of the 17 shots he faced.
Playing just down the road in Ontario the next night, rookie sensation Konstantin Kotkov got the Bombers out to a 1-0 lead with his goal scored 13:54 into the opening frame.
The Avalanche awoke short thereafter however and came back to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes of play, before adding three more in the second and one in the third, for good measure, as they stormed back to win it 6-1.
Veteran forward Michael Thomas led the way with three points in the victory, while Drew Hill, Brett Norman and Zechariah Roberts each added two points apiece.
Chris Skeates, one of the three goaltenders in Chris Shaw’s rotation, probably earned some more playing time in the win, as he looked solid while stopping 24 of 25.
The Bombers vaunted offense was held in check for most of the game and Martinec failed to record a point for only the third time all season; the Bombers are 0-3-0 when that happens. Jakub Krejci got the start in net and stopped 26 of 32 in the loss.
The Bombers sure would have liked to pick up four points on the weekend but they’ve still won seven of their last nine games and are now just seven points out of a playoff spot. If they can replicate their defensive effort from Friday night and combine it with their high-powered offense, they’ll make Lake Tahoe and Valencia sweat a bit.
Ontario didn’t have their best effort on Friday night but responded well on Saturday and played the kind of all-around game people are starting to expect from them.
With a lot of divisional games left on the docket, the Avs will be looking to finish strong and lock-up home ice to begin the post-season.
HockeyWolf Three Stars of the Week
1. Brody Decker (Forward, Ogden Mustangs)- If the Ogden Mustangs are to go far in the playoffs this year, they know they’ll have to do it behind their tremendous depth at the forward position. Starting 2014 on the right foot, the Mustangs did just that in their road sweep of the Seattle Totems and Brody Decker, acquired in mid-November, led the way with a goal and six assists.
2. Matthew Plesa (Forward, El Paso Rhinos)- Any time the El Paso Rhinos touch the ice, you can expect someone with the name Plesa on the back of their jersey to have a big night. Matthew, Peter and Nick have given the Rhinos offense a huge boost since joining the team just after training camp and each has taken turns leading the way. This weekend in Phoenix, it was Matthew notching a goal and six assists and helping his team to a sweep of the Mountain Division leading Knights. The Alberta native now leads the team with 41 points on the season
3. Miguel Caron (Forward, Texas)- When Miguel Caron turns it on, he’s arguably the most unstoppable player in the league. Well, he flipped the switch this weekend and helped lead Texas to a sweep of the visiting San Diego Gulls, with his five goals and one assist leading the way.
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