Two hockey games in one day, two more wins for the El Paso Rhinos.
The Rhinos started the Western States Hockey League Showcase in Las Vegas, NV, in fine fashion Friday, giving the Western Division-leading Fresno Monsters only their third loss of the season in their opening game, 4-1, then edging the San Diego Gulls, 4-3, in the nightcap.
Though shortened to only two 25-minute periods to get all 12 league teams seen by college scouts, all games count in the league standings, thus El Paso increases its league-best mark to 32-3-0 and 64 points.
The Rhinos\’ first game against Fresno was a smashing come-from-behind win for the Mid-West Division leaders — smashing as in physical.
“They\’re a very good team,” said head coach Cory Herman, “we needed to establish or physical game.”
After the Monsters\’ Alex Johansson gave Fresno the lead with 2:22 left in the first, El Paso stepped up its checking, hitting the Monsters at every turn. The physicality earned results, as the Rhinos scored four unanswered goals, led by Donald Geary at 6:18 of the second.
Tyler Ridgedell notched the game-winner eight minutes later, followed by the league\’s leading goal-scorer, Nick Gualano, who put in a shorthanded breakaway off a feed from Austin Balko at 17:12.
Frankie Posillico rounded out the scoring with an unassisted goal just over a minute later.
Andrew Duff got the win in goal for El Paso, stopping 22 of 23 shots.
The Rhinos win over the Gulls was a different story with different heroes.
San Diego, currently third in the West, outshot the Rhinos, 24-20, yet trailed almost from the start, as El Paso\’s Timothy Avegard scored at
5:22 of the first.
The Swedish forward was followed by defenseman Andrew Ketterer, playing less than a week after separating his shoulder against Tulsa. The Peoria, IL, native slapped one in from the blue line on a Rhinos\’ power play at 18:30 of the first, and El Paso led 2-0 before the Gulls could find the net.
San Diego finally converted on a two-man advantage as Weston Cydell found the net at 22:02.
But the Rhinos would increase their lead to two again just 2:50 into the second frame, as Anthony Knuth scored the first of his two goals.
Knuth would strike again, making it 4-1 with an unassisted goal at 9:52, before the Gulls\’ Brendon Dyok and Chris Schmidbauer tallied late.
Goalie Max Dizgun stopped 21-of-24 San Diego shots for the win.
El Paso will play twice more in the Showcase, taking on the second place Idaho Steelheads at 1:25 p.m. MST Saturday afternoon before rounding out their time in Las Vegas with a game Sunday morning at 11:35 a.m. MST against their old nemesis, the defending league champion Phoenix Polar Bears, currently fourth in the West.
Overall, the Mid-West Division has impressed at the Showcase, despite having only five teams to the West\’s seven.
The third place Tulsa Rampage suffered the only Mid-West loss of the day, 6-3, by press time at the hands of the Valencia Flyers, but beat Bakersfield, 2-1. The Boulder Bison, second in the division, downed Phoenix, 3-2, and was tied with Fresno at press time. Fourth place San Antonio won both of its games, and even fifth place New Mexico won in the Renegades\’ only game of the day.
For tickets and other information, including Holiday hours for ice skating at the Sierra Providence Events Center, contact the Rhinos\’
front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com or www.elpasohockey.org