It was a perfect 3-for-3 this weekend for the Rhinos as they came into Sunday Afternoon's Series Finale against the Ice Jets looking to come as close as one point in the race for the WSHL's Mid-West Division Lead. Even though the Ice Jets looked better in this game then on Saturday Night; It was still the Rhinos that got off to a fast start with a strong wrist shot from the right faceoff circle at just 54 seconds into the game, with assists coming from Tobias Pehrson & Matthew Tritsch got the assists off the faceoff which helped Nelson which broke a 5 game scoreless streak which goes back to the WSHL Holiday Showcase in Las Vegas when they played the Boulder Bison.
That quick goal allowed the Rhinos to control the early portions of this game with their speed and most of the Rhinos players hitting everything one and everything in sight, in addition a strong defense that kept the Ice Jets down to 6 shots for the entire 1st period. The Rhinos continued to control the 1st period by playing some strong defense on the Ice Jets 1st 2 PP Chances with a High Sticking Penalty to Gunnar Bjorklund & an Interference Penalty against Craig Hanisch that they were able to take advantage to build momentum, to eventually lead to get the Rhinos 1-0 lead. One of the best chances for the Ice Jets in the 1st part of the game was a great breakaway that Blake Blaha was able to generate and was almost able to beat Brandon Smolarek on a Breakaway Backhand Chance just past the midway point in the 1st period.
Another folied chance came just a few minutes later when Sam Akins couldn't control what would have been a booming slap shot with traffic in front of the net .
Despite the chances, the SOG were much lower and much more even. Late in the 1st period exploded with activity with the Rhinos Dallas Szustak converting a low wrist shot to make it, 2-0 Rhinos at 16:37, with a great pass from Trey Hughes near the faceoff dot. This was a great example of making the best of their scoring chances that the Rhinos have done a great job of all weekend which was one of the biggest differences to make the Rhinos win all 3 games in this series. Tobias Pehrson also got his 2nd assist of the 1st period who's had one of his better performances of the weekend.
Just a minute later, Blaha & Craig Hanisch dropped the gloves immediately to get a short fight in where both players went to the Box for fighting. It seemed to inspire the Ice Jets who just 24 seconds later, Jefferson Wright scored his 15th of the season on a spin-o-rama shot with 2:05 left in the 1st period to cut the El Paso lead in half. The Rhinos went into the break at 2-1, but the Ice Jets were looking more inspired and into the game following the goal.
That momentum wouldn't last long though as the Rhinos scored at 3:10 as Nicholas Shadow's went through Scoggin's legs to restore the 2 goal lead on a great orginial shot by Kyle Stephens that the Rhinos were able to crash the net as Basham took the puck and slipped the pass to Shadow to put in the upper corner of the net. Just a minute later, Grant Williams scored his 3rd goal in his debut weekend after coming from the Austin Bruins in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), thanks to Hudson set him up on the 2-on-1 that had Rhinos Goalie Brandon Smolarek scrambling and basically with no chance to stop and to cut it back to a one game at 3-2 early on in the 2nd period.
After that, it was a collection of penalties that mucked up the game with that included a pair of scrums and matching minors when Johnny Henson & Trey Hughes at 5:02, then just a minute later, another scrum had the players bunched up along the boards in the neutral zone which had Tommy Mines & Joesph Matyaszek for the Ice Jets penalized for Roughing, while Rhinos Forward Tyler Basham was penalized for Unsportsmanlike Conduct as well.
Despite the Rhinos PP, the Ice Jets did a good job of being able to prevent the Rhinos PP from getting set up and build their lead. After another Ice Jets Penalty by James Barnett for a Delay of Game penalty, the team took advantage of a great turnover forced by Tommy Mines he was able to pass it to Dan Hudson where he was able to score on a backhanded goal at 16:08 to tie the game for the 1st time at 3-3.
With the SOG tied at 21 & and a 3-3 hockey game, it was felt that it was anyone's hockey game going into the 3rd period.
However, the Rhinos scored in the Opening Minute of the 3rd period with David Nelson scoring his 2nd goal of the game just 46 seconds into the 3rd period when Nelson got a great snap shot off to make it, 4-3, where the Rhinos were once again able to wrestle momentum again in the early parts of the 3rd period.
After a mostly uneventful 3rd period with only 1 penalty and some hits for both teams kept it 4-3. One of the more eventful moments came when Thomas Scoggin was rammed by the Rhinos offense where it looked like the Ice Jets Goalie could have been hurt, but he stayed in the game and helped keep the Rhinos in the game late in the 3rd & into OT where the Ice Jets stayed in the game. With 6:10 left in the 3rd period, a Johnny Henson breakaway set up by Sam Akins tied the game at 4-4 which helped get the game to OT.
In the OT, Ice Jets Goalie Thomas Scoggin helped keep the Ice Jets in this game as the Rhinos were able to out shoot the Ice Jets 7-2 in the extra period to force a SO with the Rhinos completing the OT out shooting the Jets 38-30 during the 65 minutes.
Despite getting to the SO, none of the Ice Jets Shooters were able to get it past Smolarek. While Rhinos shooters Dallas Szustak & Eric Miller helped the Rhinos win the SO 2-0 to earn a 5-4 SO Win for the Rhinos.
Ice Jets Goalie Michael Baldwin stopped just 4 of 6 shots in the 1st period before getting pulled at 16:37 mark of the 1st period. Michael Baldwin was able to make 29-of-31 shots in the SOL. While Smolarek stopped 26 of 30 shots to earn his 3rd win of the weekend.
The Ice Jets will have some time to think about this rough weekend as the Jets have next week off; nd will hit the ice again from January 20-22 in Wyoming to play the Cheyenne Stampede. Their next home series will be from January 27-29 when they host the San Diego Seagulls.
While the Rhinos will host the New Mexico Renegades at the Sierra Providence Events Center in El Paso from January 12-14. For the Rhinos to take over the Ice Jets for the Mid-West Division Lead, they need to get at least 3 out of a possible 6 points; which would have to go 1-1-1 or better next weekend.
Elsewhere across the WSHL on Sunday, the Valencia Flyers used a scoring barrage to beat the Ogden Mustangs, 12-3. This was a game where everybody was getting involved in the offense with 15 players scoring at least a point. Including a 4 Goal Game from Josiah Habighorst.
Also despite having a better performance in Southern California, the Long Beach Bombers were able to still beat the Dallas Snipers 5-4 to earn a 3 game sweep. For the Snipers, they will face the Texas Jr. Brahmas on January 21 at NYTEX Sports Center.