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Weekend Preview

02/14/2014 5:41 AM -


Things will lighten up a little bit around the WSHL this weekend, as eight squads get a well-deserved rest after a busy trade deadline. 16 teams are still in action however, as just two playoff spots remain out there for the taking.

Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:

Dallas Snipers (17-17-2, 4th in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (6-30-0, 5th in Midwest Division)

Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma

In a series that already got started last night, the Dallas Snipers are looking to climb the standings and catch one of the two Dallas-area rivals that are in front of them, which would ensure them of an opening round playoff match-up somewhere in the Dallas metroplex.

If the rest of the series goes anything like Wednesday night’s opener, they won’t have a problem doing just that, as the Snipers broke a scoreless tie early in the second period and continued on to an 8-0 victory.

After a Zach Lawson goal at 1:54 of the middle frame got things going, the Snipers then notched three straight power play markers to take full control of the contest, as two from Aaron Krominga were sandwiched around another from defenseman Luke Grignano.

After Alexander Lehnbom extended the lead to 5-0 late in the period, the veteran Krominga finished off his hat trick midway through the third, before Alexander Yunanov and Emil Melin each tallied late to conclude the 8-0 shellacking.

Aaron Krominga, Emil Melin and Shane Bonds each finished the game with three points to lead Dallas in the big victory, while Steffen Muller, starting his first game as a Sniper, stopped all 14 shots he faced in net.

Tulsa, playing with even fewer players than they have been, after dealing a couple more players away at the deadline, couldn’t get anything going all night and Teke Murphy did well to keep them in it as long as he did, as the rookie stopped 32 of 40 in the loss.

The Snipers are now just five points back of Texas for the third spot in the division and can make things real interesting over the last few games if they can continue on to a sweep in Tulsa.

Aaron Davis has his team playing at a very high level and most importantly, staying disciplined, which was an issue early in the season but has since dissolved.

When on top of their game, the Snipers now have more than enough talent and physicality to hang with anyone in the division and are certainly a team to watch come playoff time.

Give the players that have stuck with the Jr. Oilers credit, as they could have jumped ship like some others a few weeks back but instead continue to play hard and are helping Marty Magers build some momentum going into the off-season.

The team is void of a number of their stars, especially with Langford now playing with the Snipers after last week’s trade but they continue to battle and just need to get through the few remaining games, as big changes are in store come summer.

Salt Lake City Moose (26-11-2, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Missoula Maulers (14-18-4, 4th in Northwest Division)

Three-game series in Missoula, Montana

Looking to hold on to the #2 spot in the Northwest Division, the Salt Lake City Moose take to the road this weekend for three games in Missoula against the Maulers, who are currently in the driver’s seat for the fourth and final playoff spot in the division.

The Moose have been the talk of the league lately, as they’ve picked a good time to play some of their best hockey of the season, which is saying something because they’ve been solid from the outset.

Their recent surge hasn’t come by way of pick-ups out of the NAHL or trades with non-playoff teams but instead, a tremendous amount of depth at every position via players that have been on the roster all season, which makes them a match-up nightmare for opponents.

17 of the 25 skaters currently on the Moose roster have already hit double digits in points, including 13 that are already above the 20-point plateau.

Head coach Jeff Carr has preached a team game from the start and in years past, it was a necessity because they didn’t have the talent to keep up with some of the better teams in the league. This season, they’ve been doing it by committee, all the while having one of the more talented teams in the league, so it’s really no wonder why they’ve gone from a bottom feeder to a Thorne Cup contender.

Veterans like Cole CorsonPat DwyerMartin Tolkner and David Barnes have been sensational all season and are some of the more consistent threats on the team but rookies galore, including Adam Kresl and Brett Meyer, have taken the Moose to another level and not just a playoff team but one that might be able to nab home ice in the opening round, which would be huge for two reasons; 1. They’re most likely going to be matched up against the nearby rival Ogden Mustangs, so any advantage they can get would be huge and 2. They play on a Olympic-size ice sheet and have adapted their game to excel on it.

They still have a lot of work to do and the Mustangs are surely going to come on strong with two games in-hand on them but if Salt Lake City continues to do what they have, roll four lines and outwork their opponent, they’ll be tough for anyone to handle, including a very defensive Missoula team this weekend.

Once in the cellar themselves, the Missoula Maulers have turned it on in the second half of the season and now control their own destiny, with a six point cushion between them and the Seattle Totems for the fourth playoff spot in the division.

A strong defensive team from the start, they seem to live and die by their offensive effort, especially in 2014, where they are 6-1-1 when they score three or more goals and winless over the six games where they’ve fail to reach three goals.

They are coming off an impressive home weekend against a wounded Boulder Bison squad, where they got everything working while picking up five big points, out-scoring the visitors 10-2 in their two victories behind offense from veterans like Erich Jaeger and Anders Nord.

They’ve been able to get offensive output in recent weeks even with leading scorer Corey Schafer, who carried the offense through the first part of the season, recording just one point over his last six games.

Other guys that have stepped up and really taken their game to another level include Joey Sundgren, who came to the team in December out of the NA3HL, Jordan Wheatly, who played for Missoula last season and recently returned to the team and Ukrainian forward Nikita Sheptytskyy, who had four points in the Boulder series.

Head coach Marcus Baxter also has a trio of netminders he can trust in any situation, as injuries gave Swedish netminder Sebastian Gronborg a chance to prove himself and he was sensational, especially at the showcase in Las Vegas and combined with a healthy Cody Janzen and Michael McDaniel, Baxter has a good problem to have on his hands.

Playing at home in front of what should be three loud and large crowds, the Maulers just need to focus on the three games in front of them and not look ahead to match-ups with both Southern Oregon and Seattle, as they hope to have the fourth spot locked up well before those series.

Ontario Avalanche (26-9-3, 2nd in Western Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (4-30-0, 6th in Mountain Division)

Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico

A team built for playoff success, the Ontario Avalanche can pull within a point of the first-place Fresno Monsters if they can go into New Mexico and sweep the Renegades this weekend, a last place team that is looking for any momentum to take with them into the off-season.

Surging at about the same time they did a year ago, the Avalanche aren’t fighting to make the playoffs this time around but instead are fighting to keep their home ice advantage, which would be huge with two other Southern California teams looking like they’ll make the dance as well.

Making the long trip to Dallas last weekend, the travel-weary Avalanche fell in the opener to the Snipers on Friday but true to form, Chris Shaw got his boys back on track and Ontario took the final two games of the series and have now won 15 of their last 17 outings.

Much like a number of other teams that have had success recently, the Avalanche have gotten tremendous depth scoring, as unlike last season whenAntoine Maillard was one of the only consistent threats on the roster, a large cast of forwards have helped lead the way this time and seven are already over the 30-point mark on the season.

Maillard still tops the list with 59 points and has been exceptional from the start but veterans like Brett Norman and Luke Rendino and newcomersLubomir Fetkovic and Carl Hallberg have been there to help carry the load.

Playing a defensive style for the most part, Shaw has relied on his veterans to help lead the way and make smart plays, while taking few chances from the backend and they’ve been solid, with captain Ben Meadows the perfect example of a hardworking d-man.

Three goaltenders continue to rotate in net and Shaw sees to reason to change it, as Daniel CepilaDrake Koegel and Chris Skeates have all had their moments and each has won eight or more games this season.

Making another long trip will certainly be tough on them, especially coming this late in the season but the Avalanche are a veteran club and shouldn’t have too much trouble with the struggling Renegades.

Long out of the playoff hunt, the New Mexico Renegades have had trouble keeping up in the first year of a rebuild led by head coach Steve Harrison, who has done a admirable job of pouring the foundation and changing the team’s culture.

The Renegades have struggled to score goals all season and have had even more trouble keeping it out of their net, especially now, with stud goaltender John Groth departed via trade but Harrison prepares his team to play every weekend and they continue to play hard for him.

The only two veteran WSHLers on the roster when the season started, Zach Comfort and Damond Brokke, have been the two offensive leaders of the team while acquisitions like Nikita PervyakovSam Armitage and Connor Rickabus have also chipped in a bit.

They have trouble slowing down the opposition defensively and give up a lot of shots on goal, with Groth being able to help thwart many of them. With the Swede now gone, Jacob Garvey and Austin Borchert, neither of whom have ever started a WSHL game, will share the duties and learn on the fly.

With 12 games left in the regular season, the Renegades are playing for nothing more than pride and possibly roster sports for next season but they haven’t given up yet and played hard in a tough series against El Paso last weekend, so expect them to come out and see if they can steal a point or two from the Avs.

Valencia Flyers (24-11-4, 3rd in Western Division) @ El Paso Rhinos (32-2-0, 1st in Midwest Division)

Three-game series in El Paso, Texas

A week after going into Fresno and picking up five of six points against the Western Division leading Monsters, the Valencia Flyers make the long trip to El Paso for three games against the rugged Rhinos, as they finish up a grueling stretch of games with a chance to clinch a playoff spo.

Just one point away from securing their third straight playoff berth, the Flyers have been one of the feistiest teams in the league all season, playing hard, fast and going toe-to-toe with whoever is put in front of them, even while often being outsized.

When they step on the ice on Friday night in one of the toughest places to play in the league and against one of the biggest, most skilled and physical teams around, you can guarantee they won’t be scared, as first-year head coach Josh Berge has instilled a fight in his team and they play like they have something to prove very time out.

After the big weekend in Fresno, the Flyers have now won their last five three-game series, which includes match-ups against tough opponents like Texas and Missoula.

A team made up largely of rookies hasn’t look out of place for a second, especially in the second half, as after leading scorer Austin Ehrlich, who has put together another outstanding season in which he has 53 points through 37 games, the next 14 in team scoring are all newcomers, with all but four of them being rookies.

The recent acquisitions of defenseman Jordan Grywacheski and forward Keegan Hull from Wichita will give the Flyers a bit more edge and bringing inFilip Andreasson from Long Beach should add some more depth up front.

They are also strong defensively, as they won’t put you through the glass but skate well, make the smart plays and are always looking to move the puck up ice, with veterans Sam Taferner and Dillon Thomas leading the way.

Mark Becica continues to be the story in net, as after serving in a backup role all last season, the local kid has found a groove in year two and has put up sparkling numbers, while going 19-3-1. Luke Thompson was acquired last month and has proven to be a solid option while giving Becica a night or two off.

The Flyers are coming on at the right time and consistently find ways to stick around in games, as they just won’t go away and play a determined brand of hockey, which they’ll need to succeed in El Paso.

12-0-0 so far in 2014, you would think the El Paso Rhinos wouldn’t have been too active during the trade deadline but you would have been wrong, as head coach Cory Herman, always looking to improve his team, went out and made a number of big transactions.

The top two scorers from the San Diego Gulls, forwards Eric Baldwin and Drew DePalma, as well as towering Latvian defenseman Kalvis Ozols came over in a trade a week before the deadline and further bolstered an already lethal lineup. Adding on to it, Herman then went out and got goaltenderBryce Fink from Seattle, a veteran who is widely considered one of the most skilled in the league and then brought in Czech forward Jiri Pestuka to round it out.

With the way the Plesa brothers are playing together on one scoring line, as well as the recent play of veterans David Nelson and Chad Cesarz, the moves seem to make the Rhinos as close to unstoppable as anybody in the league.

Ozols, who also brings an offensive flair, with 37 points on the season, joins a blue line that has been both stout in their own zone and productive at the other end too, as Chris Wilhite and Jack Strusz lead a group that has been one of the league’s best.

Even if you can gain control of the puck and keep it away from the El Paso forwards and manage to get through their rugged defensive group, you still have to get it by 6’6” Hungarian netminder Adam Vay, who is 19-1-0 on the season with a 1.91 goals against average and .933 save percentage, a guy that has now been joined by Fink to form an unbelievable one-two punch in net.

El Paso has been this good in the second half even while knowing they’re guaranteed a spot in the Thorne Cup as host but unlike two years ago, where they fell flat while hosting the event for the first time, the Rhinos aren’t looking like they’ll be slowing up anytime soon.

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend but there won’t be a whole lot of love between these two, as both are looking for points and are as tenacious as they come.

Dallas Ice Jets (22-10-2, 2nd in Midwest Division) @ Boulder Bison (19-16-0, 4th in Mountain Division)

Three-game series in Superior, Colorado

Two teams that employ a similar style and have played each other tough over the last couple of seasons will meet in Colorado this weekend, as the Dallas Ice Jets travel to take on the Boulder Bison.

With the other two Dallas-area teams hot on their tail, the Ice Jets made a couple of moves at the roster movement deadline in hopes of helping them hold on to their #2 spot, as they’d love to keep home ice advantage in the opening round.

One of the original Ice Jets, forward Alex Devillier returns the team after playing most of the season in the SJHL and should immediately bolster a unit void of much experience, while Paul Taylor also worked a trade to bring in Swedish goaltender John Groth, who was exceptional while facing 60-plus shots a night while with New Mexico.

The two moves strengthen a team that has been solid but unspectacular this season, which was expected, as most of last year’s team moved up and Taylor had to bring in a ton of rookies, albeit high-level ones, to fill the voids.

The Ice Jets were off last weekend but will be ready to get going again, as they’ve won just three of their last eight outings, with the three wins coming over the lowly Tulsa Jr. Oilers, three of the losses to the #1 seeded El Paso Rhinos and most alarming, two straight losses to the nearby Dallas Snipers.

Still a well-coached and disciplined team, the Ice Jets have a ton of speed and a lot of talent up front, headlined by first-year forward Chris Schutz, who leads the team with 57 points on the season.

Other newcomers like Ondrej ValoDmitry Kuznetsov and Luke Simon have been solid, as have WSHL veterans Scott Folden, a former Boulder Bison,Johnny HensonYannick Aube and Nick Felan, who recently returned from the NAHL.

Defensively the Ice Jets haven’t been as crisp in years past but the group is very young, with only Bryan Siersma having WSHL experience under his belt prior to this season. The group is coming along nicely however and Taylor has made a couple of minor moves to try and bolster it further.

Groth should have an immediate impact in between the pipes but if he struggles, rookie Tyler Hough has been steady all season, while both Jordan Salas and Vladyslav Slyusarchuk have been up and down and probably a big reason Taylor felt the need to go out and make a move.

Always a strong suit, special teams hasn’t been as great as in years past for Dallas, as their power play, normally number one or two, is right in the middle of the pack, while their penalty kill sits a solid third.

Even with the recent additions, the Ice Jets aren’t as fine-tuned as they have been in years past but they’re still a fast-skating bunch that pressure hard and force their opponents into mistakes. If they can come together down the stretch and play smart hockey, they’ll be a playoff threat once again.

The WSHL offices are located about 820 miles from Paul DePuydt’s office in Boulder, Colorado but I could hear the Bison bench boss breathe a sigh of relief earlier this week, as a couple of key players came off injured reserve and will help strengthen a banged up team that has struggled over the last couple of months.

Top forward Chris Lupinski and goaltender Colin Champine, both of whom missed extended time with injuries, are set to play this weekend against the Ice Jets and DePuydt couldn’t be happier, as his club has had trouble finding a groove of late.

Give the Bison credit however, especially the guys that have stepped up even with increased roles, as they were able to help keep the team above water and clinch a playoff berth but they’d still like to climb the standings further.

Not only are the two stars coming back but more reinforcements will come with them, as DePuydt made a couple of roster moves before the deadline, including bringing in a number of high-level local players, including forward Will Neff, who had 71 points in his two previous seasons with the Bison.

The group should immediately help a team that has looked tired recently, especially last weekend in Missoula against a deep Maulers squad.

Rookies Charles JolyKevin Behrens and Chad Lopez have been carrying the load up front with a few guys now gone, including Kevin’s older brother Hunter and the lone veteran d-man on the roster, Greg Sodbinow, has also been fantastic in recent weeks.

In net, Sean Cuscaden and Brandon Yinger have split time and both of the rookies have been solid but getting Champine back will be a huge boost.

With 11 games still remaining on the docket, the Bison will be looking to find their groove again, which like the Ice Jets, is predicated on speed and really being able to open things up in the neutral zone.

They have a relentless attack up front and with Champine back in net, the defense will be able to take more chances and chip in a bit more.

When these two teams clashed in Dallas back in November, the Bison were able to take two of three and you know the ice Jets will be looking to return the favor on this weekend.

Seattle Totems (11-23-4, 5th in Northwest Division) @ Ogden Mustangs (24-10-3, 3rd in Northwest Division)

Three-game series in Ogden, Utah

After seeing the rival Salt Lake City Moose pass them in the standings during their weekend off, the Ogden Mustangs return to the ice with three games against the Seattle Totems, as they try to get their home ice advantage back going into the playoffs.

One of the most skilled teams in the league, the Mustangs haven’t been plagued by inconsistency as they were last year but will need to take their game to the next level over the next few weeks, as everyone around them has gotten stronger, as well.

Following up their biggest offensive weekend in team history, in which they outscored the Tulsa Jr. Oilers 44-5 over three wins, the Mustangs put up only seven goals in three losses on home ice to the Fresno Monsters two weeks back, their lowest output of the year in a three-game set.

With their next six games coming against non-playoff teams, the Mustangs have a great opportunity to rebound and take the second spot back from the Moose, which they owned for most of the season.

All but three of the 22 skaters currently on the Ogden roster have reached double digits in points, as much like the nearby moose, the Mustangs have as much depth as anyone in the league.

Veterans Dusty Watt and Schuyler Seyfert have been one-two in team scoring pretty much the whole season, with each guy showing game-changing ability at times, while newcomers like Swedish speedsters Simon Teodorsson and Martin Hallin, the rough and tumble Jimmy Peplinski, power forwardJon Mencer and the diminutive yet sneaky Brody Decker have rounded out a group that can score in bunches.

The Mustangs also own one of the more offensive d-corps as well, as the addition of Mike Kowicki from Southern Oregon back in January gave them five defensemen with double digits in points, led by George Babos, who now has 30 and David Clements, who along with Kowikci has 23.

Tyler Fallica continues to be a pillar of strength in net, as he battles for every save and finds ways to weather storms and keep his team in games but has been facing too many shots and scoring chances, something head coach Jake Laime is working hard to cut down on.

The Mustangs are a versatile team, as they have the size to bang it out and play power hockey but the skill to adapt to a speed game and capitalize on the chances they’re given.

Although they’ve played well all season, you get the feeling Ogden hasn’t fully tapped into their potential and there’s 23 other teams in the league that are hoping they don’t hit their peak anytime soon, as if they get hot, they could easily end up Thorne Cup Champions.

Playing at home in front of what will be three big crowds, the Mustangs need to control the games against a short-benched Totems squad and never let them feel like they’re in it.

Still not out of the playoff picture, the Seattle Totems have been fighting hard all season, even while playing with a short bench most of the way.

Head Coach Mike Murphy has had trade offers on the table for a few key players for a few weeks but held off as long as he could, before a sweep at the hands of Idaho last weekend forced his hand and he dealt away goaltender Bryce Fink, who was the face of the franchise over the last four seasons.

Rookie goaltenders Cody Stein and Eli Alyakin are more than capable and Olivier Gervais, who came back from El Paso in the trade, is solid but Fink was a workhorse and Seattle’s road to the playoffs is going to be very tough going forward.

Murphy did what he had to do however and gave a veteran a chance to play post-season hockey, while also acquiring assets for next season.

The Totems still have a decent group up front, led by leading scorer Frank Flight and his 49 points, as well as his linemates Nikolay Mamadzhanov andEric Danna but depth has been an issue.

Piers LaFranceSergey Kuznetsov and Lucas Walsh have all picked up their game in recent weeks but the Totems still wear down late in contests, which was rather evident when Ogden swept them in Seattle back in January.

The defensive corps, led by Robin Bjoernstad and Brett Losey has been overworked as well but recently received some help, as Czech d-men Pavel Jonand Matous Jelinek came to the team and both had immediate impacts last weekend but again, it seems to be just a matter of too little, too late.

One thing you can be sure of however, is that the Totems won’t be mailing it in or giving up because as long as they have a fighting chance, they’ll be playing hockey the Totems way and skating until the final buzzer.

Colorado Jr. Eagles (19-15-2, 3rd in Mountain Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (10-23-4, 6th in Northwest Division)

Three-game series in Medford, Oregon

The Colorado Jr. Eagles will be introduced to a very tough place to play this weekend, as the playoff-bound first-year team heads to Medford for three in the Madhouse against the Southern Oregon Spartans.

Having already clinched a playoff spot, Colorado will be looking for points in order to hold on to third place in the division, as the rival Boulder Bison are right behind them and looking to move up.

After the Bison swept a home-and-home series from Colorado two weeks back, the Jr. Eagles got back on the winning track and clinched their playoff berth during a sweep of the Arizona Redhawks last weekend.

Without much experience and no real “go-to” guys, the Jr. Eagles beat up on the Redhawks the way they’ve won games the entire season, behind a complete team effort and a blue-collar mentality.

Levi Weber, who leads the team with 43 points on the season, is the closest thing they have to a true star, as the Jr. Eagles have done it by committee most of the way through, with other forwards like Nick DavidsonJackson Wallis and Tanner Ulland each having a number of great performances, as well.

The defensive group has been steady in their own zone and opportunistic at the other end, with Kyle Arenson second on the team with 32 points and both Lance Pennington and Cory Richardson not far behind.

In net, Quinn Wold and Tage Rustgi split time for most of the first half, with each guy more than holding his own but the acquisition of veteran netminderEric Messer from Tulsa has given Haddon three reliable guys to choose from.

Haddon was also busy at the roster deadline, adding a number of local players, including defenseman Ben Gundry, who fit right in immediately, notching four points in three games with the team.

Going on the road to the toughest place they’ll play this season, the Jr. Eagles have to rely on their teamwork, as if they get out of sorts and start running around, the Spartans can take over the game. They also don’t want to get caught looking ahead to another home-and-home with the Bison next weekend.

The Southern Oregon Spartans have been active with their roster in recent weeks, trading away a few key players and even bringing in a couple, including goaltender Marco Medina from Wichita.

Despite losing a lot of talented players, the Spartans have still been playing strong and have a slim chance at the playoffs, as they trail Missoula by eight points with eight games to go.

They had a tough time in Salt Lake City last weekend but were able to pick up a point and prior to that, they took down the Idaho Jr. Steelheads on home ice in regulation, a big positive for them moving forward.

They’re still showing a ton of fight and with forwards like Arturs BussAustin SartoriusJustus SaldeenBen Henry and Carl Edstrom still on the roster, they have more than enough talent to compete.

Where the roster moves have hurt the Spartans the most has been on the backend, as they lost two of their steadiest d-men and offensive producers but guys like Tyler LazarekGing Martin and Trevor Hillman have all stepped up to help carry the load.

Expect to see Medina get a chance in net early, as Jiri Ponikeklsy and Ian Dvorak have both shown flashes of brilliance but neither has been consistent enough to make head coach Jeremy Bachusz comfortable with his situation in goal.

A couple weeks ago it looked like Southern Oregon was packing it in but a win over Idaho sent a shockwave through the league and showed they were still fighting.

They may very well still miss out on the post-season but there’s still games left on the schedule and you know the home crowd will be more than enough to get them going.

San Diego Gulls (8-27-3, 6th in Western Division) @ Long Beach Bombers (19-18-0, 5th in Western Division)

Single game played Sunday in Lakewood, California

The San Diego Gulls will travel north for a rare single game on Sunday and look to play spoilers as they clash with the longtime rival Long Beach Bombers, who are now just three points out of a playoff spot after a sweep of Lake Tahoe last weekend.

The Bombers were able to couple their usual offensive output with a surprisingly stout defensive effort in the three home wins over the Blue and are now three points back with two games in-hand and look as though they’ll be able to nab the fourth spot.

Under the category of “to the victor goes the spoils” the Bombers executed a trade with the Blue shortly after sweeping them and picked up forward Martin Vachal, a physical specimen who is a load to deal with, and smooth-skating d-man Jonas Gronlund, two more imports that will fit right into their United Nations meeting room-like roster.

Odds are Vachal will slot right in on the top line with Filip Martinec, who leads the league with 86 points on the season and Tomas Nemeth, who is tied for second with 79.

The move gives the Bombes even more depth up front, as Marcus Viitanen, third on the team with 61 points, will join Konstantin Kotkov and his 60 points on the second line, making a scary team even scarier.

The defense was able to turn things around with the help of goaltender Jakub Krejci, who earned the WSHL ‘s First Star of the Week for his efforts, which included wins in all three games, including a perfect four for four in shootout chances on Saturday and 28-save shutout on Sunday.

Mikyal Anas, who has really come into his own over the last few weeks and the recently acquired Daniel Skoglund, led the defensive group in front of him to one of their best performances of the season.

It’s just one weekend but if it’s any sign, the Bombers are among the league’s elite when they get their defense to match the effort of their juggernaut offense and the rest of the division can’t be happy to see that.

Playing just a single game against a team that always plays them tough regardless of standings, the Bombers need to dictate play with puck possession and continue to work hard in their own zone and they’ll find themselves just one point out of the fourth spot.

San Diego comes into the weekend without a number of key players, as the trade deadline saw their top two scorers, forwards Eric Baldwin and Drew DePalma, as well as defenseman Kalvis Ozols get shipped to El Paso as Craig Carlyle acquired talent for next season.

They still have a number of solid players left, including super rookie Michael Leone and his 47 points but they’ll have to work even harder to stay close.

They would however love to put a rut in the Bombers plans and can do that if they can find secondary scoring, through guys like Will Parker and Mark Birchall, both of whom have been moved from defense to forward this season.

They also need Felix Kronwall, a towering Swede who hasn’t looked completely comfortably while adapting to the North American game, to step up and take Ozols minutes in a shutdown role, with nothing but rookies around him.

Brody CavataioErik Eidissen and Filip Lukac have played musical chairs in net all season and although Cavataio is the goalie of the future, Carlyle has had a hard time sticking with any one of them, as they’ve all had their fair share of rough outings.