It was a busy weekend across the Western States Hockey League, with every team but the Ontario Avalanche and Tulsa Jr. Oilers in action over 25 total games. The level of play has picked up significantly, as every team is still in playoff contention, which is astonishing this late into the season.
Below is a summary of each weekend series/game:
El Paso Rhinos (22-5-1, 1st in Mountain Division) @ Cheyenne Stampede (15-8-1, 3rd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Cheyenne, Wyoming
The El Paso Rhinos are still trying to prove their poor showing at the 2012 Thorne Cup Finals was a fluke and they’re doing a pretty good job of it, as they keep rolling along in the Mountain Division.
They traveled to Wyoming for three against the Stampede this weekend and looked dominant in two solid victories.
The Rhinos looked downright scary in the opener, outshooting the host Stampede 52-17 and scoring twice in each period in a 6-0 victory.
Brenden Gust, Austin Hoff, Gunnar Bjorklund and John Morales each tallied a pair of points in the win, while goaltender Austin Brihn stopped every shot he faced in the shutout victory.
El Paso outshot the Stampede heavily again the next night but the home team took advantage of their chances and squeaked out a 4-3 win behind great goaltending from Sam Mallory.
Kevin Rosset and Ryan Demyen each tallied two goals in the win, while Mallory stopped 47 of the 50 shots he faced.
In the finale, the Rhinos once again more than doubled Cheyenne’s shot total and despite allowing four power play goals from the Stampede, won by a score of 7-5 in a wild game.
Andrew Bradford led the way for El Paso with four points, while Kevin Rosset and Ryan Demyen each matched their point totals from the night before for Cheyenne.
Valencia Flyers (16-12-3, T-2nd in Pacific Division) @ Bay Area Seals (14-15-1, 5th in Pacific Division)
Two-game series, played Friday in Daly City and Saturday in Redwood City, California
The red-hot Bay Area Seals are on a roll but with the Valencia Flyers storming into town over the weekend, their winning streak was in jeopardy.
The Seals extended their franchise-record winning streak to eight on Friday night, behind a third period comeback and the great goaltending of Filip Orcik, who continues to impress since coming to the team at the Showcase.
The two teams traded single goals in each period, with the Seals taking the lead in the first and second, on goals by Filip Ondracek and Patrick Gillis but the Flyers responded each time with markers from Eddie Keshishian and newcomer Ryan McBride.
Hunter Jensen’s goal, scored just 2:10 into the third, gave Valencia their first lead of the game but it was all Seals from that point on, as they poured on the offense, before defenseman Ladislav Hruska tied the game at three late in regulation.
After both teams failed to convert on power play opportunities in overtime, the evenly matched opponents went to a shootout where again, it came down to the wire.
With both Orcik and Flyers starting goaltender Stephen Palmer giving up nothing through five rounds of the shootout, Orcik turned away Austin Ehrlich and Kristian Kucera beat Palmer to give the Seals the come-from-behind win.
The next night, the two teams played further south in Redwood City due to scheduling conflicts at the Cow Palace.
The Seals jumped out to an early 2-0 lead before Valencia fought back in the third and came on with a flurry to knot the game at two.
With time winding down late in regulation, it was once again Kucera who played hero, as he took a pass from Josh Mikes and put it home, to give the Seals their ninth straight victory and move them out of the cellar and into fifth place, right in the thick of the playoff race.
The concluding game on Sunday was postponed due to scheduling conflicts at the Cow Palace and is expected to be made up in February in Valencia, with the Flyers gaining a small edge from playing at home.
Salt Lake City Moose (7-16-1, 5th in Northwest Division) @ Fresno Monsters (23-5-0, 1st in Pacific Division
Three-game series in Fresno, California
After a sub-par weekend, in which they dropped two of three to Long Beach, the Fresno Monsters returned home and were looking to rebound when they welcomed in the Salt Lake City Moose.
The Moose were pesky for most of the weekend but ultimately, Fresno’s offense was just too much, as they swept the series with relative ease.
Game one was tight early on, as Salt Lake was able to hang with the Monsters’ speed and get a few solid scoring chances.
Twice the Moose were able to get within a goal but Justin Plate’s marker in the third period gave Fresno a two-goal lead and they held onto it in a 4-2 victory.
The next night was all Monsters, as Fresno came out flying and didn’t let up the entire game.
Fresno outshot Salt Lake City 42-16 and cruised to an 8-1 victory, behind five points from leading scorer Nick McKee and three each from fellow veterans Justin Plate and Kyle Godfrey.
The finale was once again all Fresno, as the Monsters allowed just 12 shots to get through to goaltender Brenden Manquen, who turned all of them aside in a 5-0 Monsters win and series sweep.
After a scoreless opening frame, Fresno turned up the offense late to notch five straight, with six different players enjoying a multi-point game on Sunday.
Texas Brahmas (17-16-2, 2nd in Midwest Division) @ Wichita Jr. Thunder (7-22-2, 4th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Wichita, Kansas
The Texas Brahmas have really kick started their season as of late and looked to continue their roll when they made their first-ever trip to Wichita this weekend.
In a closer series than they probably would have liked, the Brahmas were still able to pull out a couple of wins and cement their second place spot in the division but Wichita showed some offensive depth they’ve been missing and picked up three points in the process, moving them back in to a playoff position.
The Jr. Thunder jumped out to a 2-0 lead early on in the opener, thanks to goals from two guys that have started to pick up their play, Connor Bowman and Braeden Foote.
Forward Chase Woods responded for the Brahmas however, scoring three straight and giving his team a lead they would never relinquish, in a 6-3 victory.
Woods finished the game with four points, while leading scorer Peter Bulling notched three assists in the win.
After a Garrett Weitzel goal put the Brahmas ahead 3-2 early in the third period of game two, Wichita’s newest addition, Martin Wszolek scored on the power play from Andrii Istominov and Filip Martinec to knot the game at three and force overtime.
In overtime, it was Brahmas’ forward Cole Rose who won it, notching his second goal of the game just 1:02 into the extra period.
Goaltender Dakota McDonald stole the show for Wichita in the finale, turning away 54 of the 56 shots he faced and forward Jan Jindra notched two goals and an assist, as the Jr. Thunder won by a score of 5-2.
Dallas Ice Jets (29-2-0, 1st in Midwest Division) @ Boulder Bison (15-10-2, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Superior, Colorado
The Dallas Ice Jets haven’t had the toughest divisional schedule but they proved once again that they are indeed one of the league’s elite, sweeping three from the always-tough Boulder Bison on the road.
The Bison jumped out to a 1-0 lead early in the series opener, on a goal by forward Deon Kidd but Dallas answered with goals from Sam Akins and Brandon Unser to take the lead before the end of the period.
Just 6:15 into the middle period, it was 4-2 Boulder, as they struck for three straight to begin the period.
Just when it looked like Dallas was on the mend and got within one on a goal by Christian Elsborg, Ryan Gauthier responded with his second goal of the game for Boulder, sending the two teams to the locker rooms with his Bison holding a 5-3 lead.
Paul Taylor must have had said poignant things to say to his Ice Jets in between period because they came out like banshees in the third.
Dallas controlled play for almost the entire third period and scored four straight, to skate off with a 7-5 victory.
In a more defensive battle the next night, Luke Dietsch gave the Ice Jets a 1-0 lead in the first period, before Deon Kidd tied it for Boulder in the second.
Just 2:14 into the third, Conner Enciso put home what would stand to be the game-winner, as goaltender Michael Baldwin stopped 29 of the 30 shots he faced in a 2-1 Dallas win.
In the finale, the Ice Jets played the style of game that makes them so dangerous. They got solid goaltending from Baldwin, played great defensively, took advantage of three of their seven power play chances and received goals from five different players in a 5-2 victory and series sweep.
Arizona Redhawks (9-19-6, 5th in Mountain Division) @ Phoenix Knights (12-15-4, 4th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Chandler, Arizona
The battle of Arizona has taken on even more importance this late in the season, as both teams are fighting for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Mountain Division.
In a very hard fought series, the Phoenix Knights took two of the three games, one of which made it all the way to a shootout.
Jarrod Levos struck first for Phoenix late in the first period of game one but the visiting Redhawks roared back to score the next five in a 5-1 victory.
Mitch Cobby and Mattias Marten each notched three points in the win, while goaltender Colton Pankiw turned aside 21 of the 22 shots he faced for Arizona.
The next night the Knights jumped out to a 4-0 first period lead, thank in part to two goals from newcomer Michael Cummings.
The Redhawks responded in the second with goals from Kyle Pavlack and Mattias Marten to get within two, before Cummings completed his hat-trick early in the third.
Arizona refused to go away and got within one on Marten’s second of the game and a Mitch Cobby marker but that would be as close as they would come in a 5-4 loss.
Phoenix led 2-0 after 20 minutes of play in the finale but Arizona scored twice in the third to tie the game and force overtime.
After the extra period solved nothing, the Knights pulled it out in the shootout, with veteran forward Colin Bresnhean providing the game-winner.
New Mexico Renegades (16-15-5, 2nd in Mountain Division) @ Dallas Snipers (28-1-0, 1st in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Plano, Texas
The new-look New Mexico Renegades played their first game of the new year and their seven new additions made an immediate impression in two wins over the Dallas Snipers.
The opener was an old west shootout, with a few of the new Renegades players combining for 10 points in an 8-7 New Mexico victory.
The Renegades actually led 7-1 at one point, before the host Snipers turned up the heat and made a game of it.
Lane King notched three points in his Renegades début to lead his new team, while Shane Bonds matched his total for the Snipers.
The Snipers rebounded nicely the next night and notched all three of their goals on the power play in a 3-2 victory, in a much more defensive game.
Bonds continued his hot streak by tallying a goal and an assist for the Snipers, while goaltender Alex Bebriss-Fedotovs stopped 32 of 34 in the win.
Three of the four New Mexico goals in the finale were scored by new players, as Robby Gervino, Nick Stirmel and Tyler Dunn each scored to lead the Renegades to a 4-3 victory.
Ogden Mustangs (16-15-5, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (28-1-0, 1st in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in McCall, Idaho
If there was any doubt who the top team in the league was before the weekend, Idaho hushed the doubters once again, as they won twice in dominant fashion over the Ogden Mustangs, who played them tough in McCall earlier in the season.
The opener, originally schedule for Friday evening, had to be moved to Sunday due to road conditions between Ogden and McCall but it only seemed to effect one team.
Idaho notched three goals in each period of game once and cruised to a 9-1 victory.
Dominik Gabaj led the way with five points, while the league’s leading scorer, Stefan Brucato, picked up four of his own in the win.
The second game wasn’t much better for Ogden, as Gabaj picked up another four points, while linemate Tyler Kruenegel notched a hat-trick in a 8-2 victory.
Seattle Totems (9-18-7, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (16-12-0, 3rd in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Medford, Oregon
One of the fiercest rivalries around has been decidedly one-sided this season and it continued over the weekend, as Southern Oregon took two more from the Seattle Totems.
In one of the upsets of the year, there was not a single fight between the two teams in the series opener, the first time that has happened in who knows how long.
Southern Oregon jumped out to a 2-0 lead on goals from Kevin Edwards and Max Rasmussen but Seattle tied it up in the second on goals by Lukas Mares and Connor Haney.
The Spartans controlled the third period however and scored three straight to take the 5-2 win.
Sean Buckley, who has had Seattle’s number all season, stopped 29 of 31 in the win for Southern Oregon.
The next night, the two teams wrapped up their season series and Southern Oregon was victorious again, as Avik Bordak, Tyler McConnell and Jeff Salzbrunn each notched two points in a 5-3 win.
Seattle is still in a good spot for the playoffs but Southern Oregon wound up winning 11 of the 12 meetings.
Long Beach Bombers (13-16-1, 6th in Pacific Division) @ San Diego Gulls (17-12-1, T-2nd in Pacific Division)
Single game played in Escondido, California
The San Diego Gulls have been heating up and they began the new year with a solid victory over an upstart Long Beach Bombers squad.
Tyler Gmerek, Sean Ross, Nico Loesch and Zen Hamil each scored in the opening frame to pace the Gulls to a 4-0 lead and they never looked back in a 6-3 win.
Gmerek and Hamil joined Drew DePalma and Justin Lazalde as the four players who collected three points each, while goaltender Reed Kinsey stopped 28 shots in the win.
Three Stars of the Week
1. Dominik Gabaj (Forward, Idaho Jr. Steelheads)- He may be playing in the shadow of the magician that is Stefan Brucato but forward Dominik Gabaj is having himself one heck of a season Idaho. The Slovakian import currently leads the Steelies in goal scoring and added to his total in two games against Ogden this past weekend, picking up four goals and five assists in two blowout wins.
2. Nick McKee (Forward, Fresno Monsters)- The Fresno Monsters are in their comfortable spot atop the Pacific Division standings and a big reason for their success has been the play of veteran forward Nick McKee. In three wins over Salt Lake City over the weekend, the league leader in goal scoring picked up 10 points.
3. Michael Baldwin (Goaltender, Dallas Ice Jets)- After riding him to the Thorne Cup Finals last season, the Dallas Ice Jets have lightened goaltender Michael Baldwin’s workload this season and have him splitting time with the very capable Brody Sharp. The decrease in playing time hasn’t hurt Baldwin’s statistics however, as the veteran currently sports glistening numbers that include a 1.86 goals against average and .927 save percentage. Baldwin wasn’t sharing the playing time this weekend however, as he started and won all three weekend games against Boulder, while stopping 100 of the 108 shots he faced.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Demeyen (CHY), Kevin Rosset (CHY), Kyle Godfrey (FRE), Justin Plate (FRE), Filip Orcik (BAY), Ladislav Hruska (BAY), Drew DePalma (SDG), Zen Hamil (SDG), Conner Enciso (DIJ), Landyn Howze (TEX), Gunnar Bjorklund (ELP), Jarrod Levos (PHX), Nick Pappas (PHX), Ryan Cummings (PHX), Mattias Marten (ARZ), Mitch Cobby (ARZ), Stefan Brucato (IDA), Tyler Kruenegel (IDA), Avik Bordak (SOR), Sean Buckley (SOR), Lane King (NM), Shane Bonds (DLS),
We’ll preview this weekend’s matchups on Thursday, so be sure to stay tuned to wshl.org