01/31/2010 9:26 PM -
For five straight games, the visitors from Tulsa gave the El Paso Rhinos everything they had, but lost by a single goal each time. Sunday was a different story, though, as the Rhinos rolled at the Sierra Providence Events Center, 8-3.
El Paso got scoring from seven different players to earn its 41st victory. The Rhinos own the best record in the Western States Hockey League at 41-5-0, having wrapped up the Mid-West Division of the Western States Hockey League last weekend in Tulsa.
El Paso's 82 points paces the Mid-West by 28 over the Boulder Bison. Tulsa drops under .500 on the season at 19-20-4. Currently in third place in the division, the Rampage could not make up any ground on the Bison, but have six of their remaining nine games against Boulder, all in Tulsa, OK.
The top two teams in the division have home ice advantage in the first round of the best-of-three divisional playoffs.
Sunday, Donald Geary was named First Star of the Game, scoring twice, including the game's opening goal at 8:11 of the first period.
Nick Gualano made it 2-0 for the home team at 16:45 of the first.
Derrick Pilatic scored a dangerous goal for Tulsa at 10:47 of the second to cut the lead in half, 2-1; but the Rhinos scored the next five goals, beginning with Garrett Poland and Franki Posillico in the second period, and continuing with Navarone Copley, Geary and Anthony Knuth in the third before the Rampage could answer.
Tulsa's Clayton Hodges and Josh Verillo scored twice in nine seconds to cut the score to 7-3, but Tyler Ridgedell scored one more for the Rhinos at 15:17 to wrap the scoring.
It was the final game of the regular season between the two rivals, and it was nice to see both teams play with sportsmanship over the final few minutes, followed by a post-game handshake, usually a ritual reserved for the end of a playoff series. It's a sign of the respect both sides have for each other, knowing that, playoffs being what they are, it might be the last time the two face one another.
El Paso faces the San Antonio Diablos next weekend. For tickets and information, contact the Rhinos front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.