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12/23/2011 5:17 PM -
Awful Weekend Ends Awfully for Rhinos
Dec. 20, 2011
LAS VEGAS, NV – Let’s start with a positive just because I’m an optimistic guy…At least the weekend is over. It was quite possibly the worst stretch of four days the El Paso Rhinos have had all season; not necessarily because they ended it 1-3, but more so due to the manner with which they lost in. The three games El Paso lost in the WSHL Western States Shootout were to some great competitors, which is all the more reason to play harder than average.
This is the biggest stage of the season for the WSHL (yes, I would argue this has more exposure than the Thorne Cup Playoffs, but more on that later); if you aren’t bringing everything you’ve got then what’s the point of even playing the game? These are the same Rhinos who started the season 12-0 and in their last six games are just 2-4. This team has more ability than most of the teams at the Shootout, but when hockey isn’t played with complete focus then it will steam roll you. That is what happened to the Rhinos this weekend; they didn’t play up to their competition and paid the price for it. Coming into Tuesday’s game against the Fresno Monsters, El Paso had already shown their inability to adapt to the Shootout’s 2 periods of 25 minutes format, something that Fresno clearly had a knack for. When you aren’t good with change, stick to what you’re good at. You can’t control the format, but what you can control are the shots. It is proven that El Paso scores more when they shoot more.
Where did it go wrong in the game against the Monsters? Everywhere: It was a troublesome start for El Paso’s goaltender, Trent Casper, who gave up four goals in the opening 12 minutes of play (6 altogether); the defensive effort just wasn’t there, allowing just under 40 shots to be put on goal; and for the second game in a row, the offense failed to fire the puck on target at least 30 times. It just wasn’t there. Fresno on the other hand, had a fire under their you-know-what. These two played each other just over a week ago in El Paso where the Rhinos took 2 out of 3 in extremely physical games. This time, the Monsters were determined to avenge their losses; not only that, they had a chance to go 4-0 in the tournament and they brought the tenacity to do so.
Maybe the team just cracked under the pressure of playing in the big spotlight. This tournament gets even more exposure than the playoffs do simply because every team is on site for this, and even two teams outside of the WSHL (Southern Oregon and Seattle). This brings in two additional states and reaction from colleagues. Maybe the loss in the first game of the tournament was enough to shake them for the rest of the weekend. This seems unlikely considering they went on to beat the Stampede the following day. Maybe the goalie change shook up the team and the chemistry just wasn’t the same. It’s possible given that they were just getting into a groove after their only win of the weekend. Or maybe the Rhinos were just looking ahead to their Christmas break. If so, that is unacceptable. Regardless, they will have 17 days to fix whatever it was that caused this foul-up before their next series which will be on the road be against the Dallas Ice Jets to start the new year.
To end on a positive note, again because I’m an optimistic guy, the power play got on the box score for the first time in four games. In fact they Rhinos scored twice with the man-advantage thanks to Matthew Tritsch and Dallas Szustak. So if the team needs something to cheer them up, this is just about it. Other than that though, it’s going to be a long two weeks of contemplation after this one.
Matt Prosser, El Paso Rhinos Beat Writer for JuniorHockey.com. Matt is a freelance writer from the San Francisco Bay Area. For the past two seasons he has been the voice of California State University, Sacramento Hockey and is the host of The Sports Cycle with Matt Prosser on KSSU 1580AM in Sacramento and KSSU.com. His other broadcasts also include Hornets football, baseball, and softball. To get in touch with Matt for comments and writing ventures please e-mail him at MProsser58@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @kssuMattProsser or visit his website: www.kssusportscycle.com