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10/30/2012 10:06 AM -
The busiest weekend of the season thus far was filled with the least amount of upsets, as the "favored" teams took care of business and continued some strong early season play.
Below is a recap of each weekend series:
Arizona Redhawks (1-9-2, 6th in Mountain Division) @ El Paso Rhinos (7-2-0, 1st in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in El Paso, Texas
After getting swept at home by the Rhinos to begin the month of October, the Arizona Redhawks made the trip into hostile territory this past weekend, as they finished October with three games in El Paso.
The visiting Redhawks came out firing early in the opening period of game one and twice took a one-goal lead, on goals by TJ West and former Rhinos' forward Travis Cornwell.
El Paso answered each time however and their physicality and depth took its toll over the final two periods, as the Rhinos outscored the Redhawks 5-0 over the final two periods of play in a 7-2 victory.
The biggest difference in the game was the power play, where Arizona was only able to score once over nine attempts with the man-advantage, while the Rhinos were 3-6 on the night.
Pontus Wikner's goal, scored 3:47 into period two of game two, gave Arizona what looked like a commanding 3-0 lead but once again, they failed to hold on as the Rhinos fought back to score the game's next six goals in a 6-3 victory.
The shots were close in the series finale but the final score was not, as 14 different Rhinos recorded at least one point, led by five from forward Tommy Malkmus, as El Paso cruised to a 12-4 victory and season sweep of Arizona.
Arizona's offense continued to struggle over the weekend and 12 games into the season, only TJ West has hit double-digits in points.
After a competitive opening weekend against Boulder, the Redhawks have now lost 10 in a row and there's no help in sight, as they make the trip to Grapevine, Texas to take on the Dallas Ice Jets this weekend.
As it seems to go every season, the El Paso Rhinos need a couple of weekends to really get going but once they start, they're very hard to stop.
Head coach Cory Herman preaches physicality and depth and that's exactly what he got over the weekend in three more victories.
The Rhinos can't get complacent however, as after this weekend's trip to Phoenix to take on the Knights, they will head north to McCall, Idaho, where they'll clash with the Jr. Steelheads.
Texas Jr. Brahmas (4-10-2, 3rd in Midwest Division) @ Fresno Monsters (9-0-0 1st in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Fresno, California
After getting swept at home by the Ontario Avalanche two weekends ago, the Texas Jr. Brahmas made the long trip to Fresno, California, for their second consecutive weekend against the Pacific Division.
Playing three games in hostile territory, the Brahmas were hoping for a couple of big victories to get them back on the right track but weren't able to muster much of anything against the powerful Monsters, as Fresno remained perfect with a clean sweep.
The Monsters put their stamp on the series in game one, outshooting Texas 48-14 and leading 6-0 before the Brahmas responded with less than 14 minutes left in regulation.
Justin Plate and Nick McKee each notched four points on the night, as the two veteran forwards led Fresno to an 8-2 victory.
Game two was much closer on the scoreboard, thanks in large part to the goaltending of Oliver Eklund, who came in to relieve starter Rutger Kesling.
Despite being outshot 46-15, the Brahmas scored twice in the third period to get within two but that would be as close as they would get, dropping game two by a score of 5-3, as McKee and Plate combined for five more points in the Fresno win.
Fresno outshot the visitors by more than double again once again in game three but Eklund kept the Brahmas in it for most of the game but ultimately his efforts weren't enough, as Shilo Vega and McKee notched power play goals to lead Fresno to the 3-1 victory and third series sweep of the season.
The offensive woes continued in another disappointing weekend for the Texas Jr. Brahmas. Going up against an offensive juggernaut like Fresno always highlights the lack of offense a bit more but Texas will have to find a way to start scoring more goals, or be left in the dust of the two Dallas teams ahead of them.
One bright spot on the weekend was the goaltending of Swedish-import Oliver Eklund, who may have played well enough to earn a few more starts, as he's been used sparingly so far this season.
After nine games, it's obvious the rebuild continues in Fresno...
The Monsters have proved the doubters wrong once again and have started the 2012-2013 campaign perfect, sweeping all three series so far this season.
Veterans have led the way offensively, as Justin Plate and Nick McKee combined for 16 points over the three wins and their goaltending wasn't tested very often, as their defense, led by veterans Tommy Nourie, Gunnar Dircks and Tyler Lazarek put the clamps on the Texas attack.
In more good news for the Monsters, they won't play another road game this calendar year (other than four neutral-site games at the Western States Shootout.)
Wichita Jr. Thunder (4-8-0, 4th in Midwest Division) @ Dallas Snipers (7-4-0, 2nd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Plano, Texas
Just 11 games into the 2012-2013 regular season, the Dallas Snipers already have two more victories than they did in 46 attempts in their first season in the league.
They've benefitted from playing first-year franchises like the team they welcomed in on the weekend, the Wichita Jr. Thunder but there's no doubt that the culture has changed within the entire organization, as they've proven to be a formidable opponent every time they touch the ice.
Goaltender Alexander Bebriss-Fedotovs, has been one of the key reasons for the early success of the Snipers and he looked good in game one of the series, stopping all 21 shots he faced, as the Snipers cruised to an 8-0 victory.
Dallas' depth was also on display in game one, as forwards Aaron Krominga and Trent Williams each recorded three points on the night.
The biggest story of the opener however, was how the Dallas defense slowed the vaunted import players that have been huge for the Jr. Thunder early in the season, as Andrii Istominov and Filip Matinec were held off the scoresheet entirely.
Martinec and Istominov came back hard in game two and combined for four points but once again, the Dallas depth was too much to handle, as the Snipers pulled out a 5-3 victory behind three helpers from Michael Kohler.
The Snipers jumped out to a 5-0 first period lead in the finale and never looked back, sweeping the series with a 7-3 victory and moving their record to 7-4-0 overall.
The Jr. Thunder were once again led by their imports, including defenseman Jan Rucizka, who had been relatively quiet prior to the series in Dallas.
It seems that their opponents have figured out their top-heaviness however and focus much more attention on their top line.
Moving forward, the Jr. Thunder will need to supplement the first-line scoring with some depth, as younger guys will have to step up and help carry the load.
In direct contrast, the Snipers are as deep as ever, where last season they leaned heavily on Shane Bonds, they're getting production from different guys every night this season.
Goaltending is a strong as ever with Bebriss-Fedotovs and Thomas Scoggin sharing the load and their special teams play is improving as well.
In year one under head coach Travis Clayton, the Snipers are no longer a team to sleep on.
Southern Oregon Spartans (6-7-0, 3rd in Northwest Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (11-0-0, 6th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in McCall, Idaho
The Southern Oregon Spartans won the Cascade Cup as the playoff champion of the NORPAC last season, while the Idaho Jr. Steelheads have won back-to-back Thorne Cup Titles as the playoff champion of the WSHL.
Last weekend, the two new division foes met for three in the mountains of Idaho, where the Steelies are always tough, if not impossible to beat.
Stefan Brucato put on a show once again this past weekend, collecting 13 points in three big wins over the Spartans, helping keep the Jr. Steelheads perfect on the season.
Just 11 games into the season, Brucato leads the league with an astounding 35 points, which puts him on pace for 146, should he play all 46 games.
The Spartans stuck around early in game one, thanks to goals by Avik Bordak and Nick Stirmel and had the game knotted at two after 20 minutes of play.
Idaho poured it on over the final two periods however, scoring six times in an 8-3 victory. Brucato led the way with six points, while Kirk Van Arkel recorded four of his own.
Idaho controlled the middle game of the series throughout, as Brucato notched four more points and Josh Haverstrom added three of his own in a 6-2 win.
There was a big upset in game three; Brucato didn't lead the team in scoring. The faltering forward notched only a measly three assists in a 7-4 victory and Idaho sweep.
Czech-born Dominik Gabaj notched five points in the series finale and with 26 points in 11 games, he is second to only Brucato in the league scoring race.
Southern Oregon got their first taste of the Jr. Steelheads and it's one they won't soon forget.
They were outplayed in every game, outshot and their penalty kill allowed 10 power play goals on the weekend.
Meanwhile, Idaho remains perfect and is just as tough to beat at home as they were last year, where they didn't lose all regular season.
There's not much you can't say about their offense, their defense has only gotten stronger with the return of Conner Kingsbury and Blake Mendenhall has solidified their goal crease.
It's still very early in the season and El Paso comes to town in a couple of weeks but it's looking like a three-peat is a very distinct possibility in Idaho.
Boulder Bison (6-3-0, 3rd in Mountain Division) @ Phoenix Knights (6-5-1, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Chandler, Arizona
The Boulder Bison made the trip to the desert over the weekend, as two of the top teams in the tight Mountain Division battled it out in Chandler, Arizona.
Trying to keep pace with the now red-hot El Paso Rhinos, the Bison took it to the host Knights in the opener, outshooting Phoenix 49-28 and scoring three third period goals to win by a score of 5-3.
Trailing 2-0 after the opening frame, Phoenix scored the game's next three goals and took a 3-2 lead on Tommy Kaddatz' power play marker, scored with 7:26 left in regulation.
Not to be outdone, Patrick Grace, Matt Hefter and Daniel Kelso each scored a goal over the last 2:49 of regulation, handing Boulder the victory.
Trailing after one period of play once again, the Knights scored three times in period two of game two but this time, they were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory, behind a solid effort in net from Alex Taylor.
In the rubber game of the series, the Bison put together their most dominant performance of the season, outplaying Phoenix in every facet and winning by a score of 7-0.
Jake Spinder and Daniel Kelso each collected three points in the win, while goaltender Colin Champine stopped all 22 shots he faced in his first shutout of the season.
The series between these two teams goes to show just how tough the Mountain Division is, as both played well enough to take the series.
Phoenix has been the surprise team in the division and continues to play well, despite the two losses to Boulder.
They have far more depth than they did last season, shown by defenseman and one of the two remaining Polar Bears on the roster, Nick Kujawa, leading the team in scoring.
Boulder showed just how good they can be when they took two of three games from El Paso a few weeks back and with two solid wins in Phoenix, they continue to get better.
Their goaltending has been he biggest improvement rom last year, as veteran Dax Deadrick and rookie Colin Champine have been fantastic early on. In fact, all three of their losses have come by just one goal, meaning the goaltending has kept the Bison in every game, despite being outplayed on some nights.
Boulder and Phoenix will be around the top of the division all year, in what is sure to be a dogfight to the finish.
Bay Area Seals (3-12-0, 6th in Pacific division) @ Valencia Flyers (7-3-1, 2nd in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Valencia, California
The Bay Area Seals continued their struggles over the weekend, as the Valencia Flyers are getting hot at their usual time and took it to them over a three-game sweep.
The big guns for the Flyers had been dormant over the previous couple of weeks but they woke up in a big way against the Seals, led by Eddie Keshishian and Austin Ehrlich.
Playing game one with a short bench, due to a handful of players being either injured or suspended, the Seals couldn't keep up with the Flyers attack and lost by a score of 8-2.
Ehrlich, Keshishian and Dmitriy Dementev each notched three points in the victory, while Swedish goaltender Jesper Sannerborg picked up his first junior hockey victory in net.
The next night, the Los Angeles Kings' in-game entertainment crew, including the mascot Bailey and the Ice Crew were on-hand and so was a packed crowd.
A fired-up Flyers squad took it to the Seals once again, as the newly put together top line of Preston Nowak, Hunter Jensen and Austin Ehrlich combined for 15 points on the night, led by a career-high six from Nowak.
The Flyers power play was also potent, going 4-11 in a 9-2 Flyers victory.
In the finale, the Seals stuck around and trailed by only one after two periods of play but the Flyers scored four times in the final period to win 6-1 and sweep the Seals in their first-ever regular season series against each other.
The Seals, who are on pace for nearly 2,000 penalty minutes, didn't play overly physical and put forth an honest effort but took untimely penalties and it caught up to them.
They looked much improved in Sunday's game, when they had nearly their full roster back but gave little help to goaltender Ethan Loo and leading scorer Joshua Mikes, who often times have to do it all by themselves.
After starting their first season in the league by winning two of their first three games, they've now dropped 11 of 12 and eight in a row since.
The Flyers are at the other end of the spectrum, as they have now won four straight after losing four in a row.
Ehrlich and Keshishian are both heating up at the right time and have the Flyers looking like a real contender in the Pacific Division.
They'll need to keep the momentum going into the next couple of weekends, where they'll play Ontario and San Diego twice each.
Seattle Totems (4-5-1, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Ontario Avalanche (7-7-0, 3rd in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Ontario, California
The Seattle Totems haven't had the best start to their WSHL tenure but three wins in Ontario could go a long way in turning their season around.
The Avalanche have been one of the big surprises in the Pacific Division, as they came into the weekend near the top of the standings, in this just their first year of existence.
The first two games of the series could have gone either way, as both teams played tough and received solid goaltending but each game went to the visiting Totems by a score of 3-2.
In game one it was Brandon Gregoire's two goals that led the way, as Bryce Fink stopped 33 of 35 shots in the win.
Connor Haney scored twice and played the hero in game two, while Lukas Mares and Kyle Blondin each collected three assists in another solid effort in net from Fink.
The door was blown off its hinges in the finale, as the Totems won 7-0, despite being outshot for the third straight game.
Petr Novak notched a hat trick in the Seattle victory, which put the Totems right back into the thick of things in the Northwest Division.
Ontario will have to regroup quickly with some tough divisional games on the horizon and will need to find a way to give more help to goaltender Jesse Gordichuk, who looked a tad overworked.
Seattle just needs to keep doing what they did last weekend and roll four lines, make the smart plays on defense and get timely saves from Fink in net and they'll be back in their usual spot near the top of the standings.
Ogden Mustangs (7-5-2, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Salt Lake City Moose (0-6-1, 5th in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Salt Lake City, Utah
The battle of Utah took place over the weekend, as the Ogden Mustangs made the short trip to Salt Lake City for two games with the Moose.
Both teams are vastly improved in their second seasons in the league but the Mustangs were just too much, winning both games with relative easily.
Utah-native Kody Rodriguez had the game of his junior career in the opener on Friday, scoring four times in a 8-1 Ogden route.
The Mustangs jumped out to a 4-0 lead in game two and held off the Moose over the final two periods for a 5-2 win.
Olle Vennstrom, Erik Fischer and Sean Haltam each collected two points in the win, while goaltender Tyler Fallica stopped 31 of the 33 shots he faced.
Salt Lake City came to play on both nights but struggled to get the puck in the net. They have shown a lot of depth early in the season but not a whole lot of top-end talent.
Still without a win, the Moose just need to stay the course and they'll be able to pull out some victories eventually.
Ogden has made a rash of recent moves that have helped them shake off some early season rust and jump right into the thick of things in the Northwest Division.
Getting Sean Haltam back from a short stint in the NAHL has bolstered their offense and if they can find a way to stay disciplined, they will be a threat all year.
San Diego Gulls (6-5-0, 4th in Pacific Division) @ Long Beach Bombers (4-3-0, 5th in Pacific Division)
Game played Friday in Lakewood, California
The rival San Diego Gulls and Long Beach Bombers met for a single game on Friday night, where the Gulls continued their recent success.
After beginning the year 0-5-0, the Gulls have now won their last six games, after beating the Bombers 5-1 on Friday night.
With leading-scorer Jakub Sramek returning home to the Czech Republic to play professional hockey, the Bombers offense struggled and were only able to muster 17 shots on goal.
San Diego led 5-0 before the Bombers even got on the board with 30 seconds left in the contest, as the Gulls cruised to the victory.
Tyler Gmerek, Drew DePalma and Tyler Giovannetti each notched two points in the Gulls win, which handed the Bombers their third loss in four games.
The Bombers struggled without Sramek, as their top line failed to record at least one point for the first time all season and goaltender Jiri Sykora had little help, getting bombarded with 59 shots on goal.
They'll have to get back to their winning ways soon, as Valencia and San Diego are heating up.
Three-Stars of the Week
Stefan Brucato (Forward, Idaho Jr. Steelheads)- Stefan Brucato's six goals in the 2012 Thorne Cup Finals, which lifted his team to a 6-5 overtime victory and back-to-back titles, seemed like an anomaly at the time. Just 11 games into his second season in the league and it's pretty much par for the course, as he leads all players with 35 points, which is a solid season for most. The Colorado Springs, Colorado native was up to his usual ways over the weekend, notching 13 points in three games, leading his team to a clean sweep of the Southern Oregon Spartans.
Austin Ehrlich (Forward, Valencia Flyers)- The Valencia Flyers are back on the winning track after struggling for a couple of weeks and a huge reason for that has is the play of sophomore forward Austin Ehrlich. The local kid led all rookies in the league last season with 30 goals and is picking up right where he left off, as he is tops on the team with 21 points in 11 games. In a sweep of the Bay Area Seals over the weekend, Ehrlich picked up 10 points, while playing on a new line.
Nick McKee (Forward, Fresno Monsters)- In his third season with the Monsters, forward Nick McKee is doing what he's always done; leading his team both on and off the ice. In a sweep of the Texas Jr. Brahmas, McKee collected nine points, helping keep the Monsters perfect.
Time is flying by, as the season moves into November next weekend, where all but four teams will be in action. Be sure to watch your team play on fasthockey.com.
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League