03/18/2014 4:49 PM -
With an all-time high of 16 teams making the post-season this year, you knew the Divisional Semi-Final round was going to be chock full of action and it did not disappoint. Five of the eight series required a third game to decide a victor and four of those five series were won by the team that went down 1-0 after Friday night’s opening games.
Below is a summary of each playoff series:
#1 seed: El Paso Rhinos win series 2-0 over #4 seed: Dallas Snipers
Games played at the Sierra Providence Events Center in El Paso, Texas
Guaranteed spot or not, you knew the El Paso Rhinos weren’t going to slow up in their quest for the Thorne Cup and the top team in the league during the regular season opened up the playoffs with a sweep of the fourth-seeded Dallas Snipers.
Just one week after sweeping three games from the Snipers to conclude a spectacular regular season, the Rhinos revved it up again and dispatched Dallas in two games but not without a fight from the pesky third-year squad.
The Snipers actually outshot the host Rhinos 29-27 in the series opener on Friday night, a feat few teams have been able to accomplish this year but Bryce Fink was strong in net and stopped all but one, in a 7-1 victory.
As was often the case during the regular season, the Plesa line, composed of brothers Matthew, Nick and Peter, led the offensive charge for the Rhinos, as they combined for eight points on the night.
Matthew scored three times and added an assist, Nick notched a goal and an assist and Peter assisted on two goals.
Drew DePalma, acquired along with Eric Baldwin and Kalvis Ozols from the San Diego Gulls at the roster movement deadline, also had a fine night, adding two goals, while David Nelson notched the other El Paso goal on the evening.
Alexander Lehnbom scored the lone Snipers goal, which came while short handed and pulled the visitors within two early in the second but the Rhinos scored less than a minute later to regain a three-goal lead and never looked back in the big victory.
Emil Eriksson struggled in net and took the loss while allowing seven goals on 27 shots, most of which did come off of “Grade A” scoring chances, in his defense.
With their backs up against the wall the next night, the Snipers once again put forth a solid effort but wound up dropping the game by a score of 3-1 and were bounced in the opening round of the playoffs for the second straight season.
The Rhinos had better control of game two, despite the score being closer, as they outshot Dallas 37-23 and scored a goal in each period to get the sweep.
Defenseman Roman Konecny got the scoring started from Kendal Craig at 9:35 of the opening frame, Jiri Pestuka extended the lead to 2-0 with his power play marker at 5:15 of the second and Dakota Beaulieu put one into an empty net with 36 lefts on the clock to the ice the win, after the Snipers were able to get within one on Pavol Kotzman’s power play tally early in the period.
Both goaltenders were strong in the game, as Adam Vay stopped 22 of 23 to earn the victory in the Rhinos crease, while Emil Eriksson bounced back from a rough outing on Friday night and turned in a great performance, stopping 35 of 37 in the loss.
The Rhinos will welcome in Texas this weekend for the Midwest Division Finals, as despite already having a spot in the Thorne Cup Finals as hosts of the 2014 Thorne Cup Finals, they continue to go full bore and don’t want to get in on a “formality.”
With the way their offense is clicking and the strong play of both goaltenders, it will take a near flawless weekend to beat them now.
The Dallas Snipers deserve all the credit in the world, as they went into hostile territory for the second straight weekend, played in front of over 1,700 rowdy fans each night and more than held their own against one of the top teams in all of Tier III junior hockey. A tip of the cap to them for also keeping their composure late in the finale and focusing on hockey, even with their season coming to an end.
In their first season under Aaron Davis, they developed a ton and have now improved their record each year since joining the league in 2011.
The Snipers are one of the up and coming programs in the WSHL and with another strong summer of recruiting, they should be battling for the division again a year from now.
#3 seed: Texas wins series 2-1 over #2 seed: Dallas Ice Jets
Games played at Polar Ice House in Grapevine, Texas
As expected in a battle between two teams that are separated by just 15 miles geographically and four points in the regular season standings, the series between the Dallas Ice Jets and Texas went to a decisive third game. In the end however, Texas’ physicality won out over the Ice Jets’ speed, as Jeremy Law and his boys are moving on to face the El Paso Rhinos for the Midwest Division crown after taking the final two games of the series.
Four of the six regular season match-ups between the two rivals were decided by a single goal and the opening round playoff series was no different, with all three contests decided by just one goal.
The Ice Jets come out hard and fast in the opener on Friday night, as they outshot Texas 44-20 and finally got their power play working in a 3-2 victory.
A pair of veteran forwards, Nick Felan and Alex Devillier, hooked up on the first goal of the night, as the Jets got the lone tally of the opening frame, with Devillier setting up Felan at 7:21.
4:55 into the second however, Texas knotted things up with a power play goal of their own, as Sebastien Tremblay, who has been hot as of late, got one by Ice Jets goaltender Tyler Hough.
The Ice Jets trio of leading scorer Chris Schutz and offensive defensemen Chris Roth and Bryan Siersma combined for the next two Dallas goals, both of which came on the power play.
At 12:34 of the period, the Ice Jets took the lead for good on a Schutz goal, with assists going to Roth and Siersma and not even three minutes later, it was Roth converting from Siersma and Schutz to extend the Dallas lead to 3-1.
The Ice Jets didn’t let up in the third, as they outshot Texas 19-7 over the final 20 minutes but Texas did manage to get within one late, as Viktor Brask tallied with four seconds left on the clock but that would be it, as Dallas held on to win 3-2, with Roth, Schutz and Siersma leading the way with two points each.
Tyler Hough stopped 18 of 20 in the Dallas crease for the win, while Oliver Eklund allowed three goals on 44 shots and took the loss for Texas.
Texas made the most of their chances the next night, as they scored on 25% of the shots they took in a 5-4 victory.
An Eric Lewis goal at 13:39 of the opening period gave the visitors the early lead and they added on to it just 36 seconds later, as Collin Young made it 2-0 in favor of Texas.
With just 28 seconds left in the first, they really took control of the game, as Austin Murray extended the lead to 3-0, and they carried that momentum over into the second, with Miguel Caron’s goal at 4:10 pushing the Texas lead to 4-0.
Dallas was able to climb back into the game just a few minutes later, as goals by Nick Felan and Alex Criswell, scored just 56 seconds apart, pulled the Ice Jets within two with over 30 minutes left to play in regulation.
The Ice Jets were then able to pick up their play for quite some time and started finding some great scoring chances but Texas killed their momentum late in the period, as Seth Ensor scored five seconds into a power play opportunity to make it 5-2.
The Ice Jets would battle hard in the third, outshooting Texas 14-2 for the frame and got two Chris Schutz goals late, with an extra attacker on the ice for each but fell by a score of 5-4.
Austin Murray, Eric Lewis, Cody Letsinger and Landyn Howze each notched two points to lead Texas in the victory, while Chris Schutz did the same in the loss for Dallas.
Ryan Mulka, who struggled late in the regular season, was strong in net for Texas, stopping 36 of the 40 shots he faced in the victory, while Tyler Hough allowed four goals on 10 shots in the Dallas crease, before being pulled in favor of John Groth, who stopped 9 of 10.
Things looked bleak for Texas early on in the finale on Sunday, as the Ice Jets jumped out to a 2-0 lead on first period goals by Bryan Siersma and Alex Criswell but a late first period marker by Anatoly Uspenyev gave the visitors something to feel good about before heading into the locker room.
Just 2:11 into he second period, Dalton Foster put one home on the power play to knot things up and the two teams were still tied heading into the third.
With things tightening up and the game looking as though it was headed for overtime, Spencer Roth got hauled off for holding and the Texas power play converted, as Michael Brown notched the game-winner at 15:48 to cap off a tremendous comeback and 3-2 victory.
Oliver Eklund, who had struggled against Dallas earlier in his career, was magnificent in net, stopping 30 of 32 for the victory, while Tyler Hough allowed three goals on 23 shots in the loss.
In a series that was this evenly matched, the difference really came down to special teams, which was once an Ice Jets strong suit but Dallas was never really able to get the power play going this year.
Texas went 4-11 while on the power play over the three weekend games, while Dallas went just 3-19.
Texas made the most of their chances and scored timely goals to swing the momentum and shut it down defensively when they had to.
They’ll now head into El Paso knowing they’ll be in the Thorne Cup Finals regardless, as the Rhinos go as hosts, so whether they win the division or finish runners-up, Jeremy Law and Co. have a spot waiting for them.
Don’t expect that to slow them down however, as they showed with their play in Las Vegas that they can hang with the league’s elite and are playing with a chip on their shoulder right now, as they’ll look to match the Rhinos physicality and intensity.
Dallas had another strong year under Paul Taylor, who was able to get his young team going down the stretch and they certainly gave it their all in the playoffs but they just couldn’t get the puck in the net enough.
Just three seasons into their WSHL tenure, the Ice Jets have already made three post-season appearances and two trips to the Thorne Cup Finals and are widely considered one of the top organizations in the league.
#1 seed: Phoenix Knights win series 2-1 over #4 seed: Boulder Bison
Games played at The Ice Den in Chandler, Arizona
Just two weeks after looking dominant in a three-game sweep of the Boulder Bison, the Phoenix Knights fell behind 1-0 in the playoff series between the two teams but are moving on to play for the Mountain Division title after winning the last two games of the series.
For whatever reason, the Bison historically just know how to turn it up a notch in the post-season, giving teams like Idaho and El Paso fits over the years and they did the same to the Knights on Friday night.
Phoenix started well in the series opener, as Jordan Cullum put one home just 4:08 into regulation to pace the top-seed to an early 1-0 lead but Boulder picked up their game from that point on.
The Bison got their speed going and grew stronger as the period went along, before knotting it up late, as Thomas Jarman scored unassisted at 16:08 to send the two teams into the locker rooms tied at one.
Another unassisted goal, this one via leading scorer Charles Joly, gave the Bison the lead at 6:05 of the middle period.
It was then Phoenix’ turn to pick up the pace and eventually tie things up, as the two forwards they acquired at the deadline from the rival Arizona Redhawks hooked up, with Mitch Cobby scoring off a feed from Mattias Marten at 14:36.
Just 52 seconds later however, the Bison responded to take the lead right back, as veteran forward Ryan Fitzgerald lit the lamp with 3:32 left before the intermission.
Working quickly to begin the third, Boulder took complete control of the game, as they scored two goals within the opening 1:13 of the period to blow it wide open.
Thomas Jarman’s second of the game, which would stand up to be the game-winner, came just 32 seconds in and Charles Joly added his second just 39 seconds later to make it 5-2 Bison.
Mattias Marten would get the Knights back within two with his goal near the middle part of the period but Boulder held strong and won by a score of 5-3.
Jarman and Joly led the way with two goals each and Colin Champine, slowed most of the season by injuries, stopped 35 of 38 to earn the victory in net.
The duo of Cobby and Marten, who each notched a goal and an assist, led Phoenix offensively, while Alex Taylor stopped 30 of 35 in net.
The Knights bounced back in a big way the next night, as with their season on the line, they pulled away over the final two periods while outshooting the Bison 33-13 and winning by a score of 10-2.
An even strength goal from Ryan McNeely and a short handed marker from Jordan Cullum, helped pace Phoenix to a 2-1 first period lead, with Alejandro Ochoa providing the lone marker for Boulder in a fairly even opening 20 minutes of play.
McNeely opened up the second with his second goal of the game to make it 3-1 and Cullum followed with two more to complete his hat-trick and blow the game open, making it 5-1 in favor of Phoenix.
Another short handed goal, this one from veteran Colin Bresnehan, made it 6-1 late in the period and the Knights tacked on to it early in the third, with goals from Brynton MacNab, Robert Crisci and Mattias Marten making it 9-1.
Charles Joly would show some fight for the Bison with his goal at 16:14 but McNeely completed his hat trick and made it 10-2 Phoenix with just 1:33 left before the buzzer.
Cullum added three assists to go along with his three goals to lead the Phoenix attack, while McNeely had three goals and Max Mahood had three assists. Luke Stripp enjoyed a light night of work in the Phoenix crease, stopping 11 of 13 in the win.
Colin Champine followed up a strong performance the night before with a bit of a struggle in game two, as the veteran allowed seven goals on 30 shots and took the loss, before being replaced by Brandon Yinger, who allowed three goals on three shots over a half period of work.
Things really tightened up in the decisive third game, as neither team found twine in a well played opening period, in which neither made many mistakes.
Then Ryan McNeely, who has been the hottest player in the league over the last few weeks, notched his second hat trick in as many nights and this one was of the rare natural variety, as he opened the second with goals at the 28 second mark, 12:18 and 15:21, all three of which came via Jordan Cullum assists, to give Phoenix a 3-0 lead.
Just 35 seconds after McNeely made it 3-0, Mitch Cobby extended the lead to 4-0, as Phoenix came on in a hurry to take control of the game.
Give the Bison credit, as they came out hard in the third and fought for their season, as Alejandro Ochoa got them on the board at 4:11 and just a couple of minutes later Daniel Orsborn got them within two but that would be as close as they’d come in a 4-2 loss.
It was the three points each from McNeely and Cullum leading the way for Phoenix, while Luke Stripp stopped 25 of 27 in net.
Ochoa and Orsborn led Boulder with two points each and Colin Champine stopped 27 of 31 in net.
Phoenix showed great fortitude to come back in the series and pick up the pace, as they came together and showed why they are the top seed in the division.
McNeely has been huge for Tyler Ramsey over the last few weeks but it’s an even better sign to have guys like Cullum, Mahood, Cobby and Marten heating back up, which makes their offense that much deeper.
Playing against a speedy Boulder team, the Knights defense was strong in their own end while not taking many chances offensively, while Luke Stripp may be the starter in net moving forward.
Phoenix will host the upstart Colorado Jr. Eagles for the division title this weekend in a series that will showcase a ton of skill, especially up front.
Boulder had a tough year but persevered through an inexperienced roster and rash of injuries and did well just to make the playoffs.
They began the series very well and were right there on Sunday but a tough second period ultimately did them in.
Paul DePuydt continues to put his team in a place to win and with more local teams coming into the fold next year, he’ll be taking the level up another notch, especially in the recruiting battles.
#3 seed: Colorado Jr. Eagles win series 2-1 over #2 seed: Cheyenne Stampede
Games played at Cheyenne Ice and Events Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming
The atmosphere was electric in Wyoming’s capital this weekend, as the hometown Cheyenne Stampede faced-off against the rival Colorado Jr. Eagles in an action-packed series that came down to the wire.
After a tough loss in game one put them in a hole, the Jr. Eagles did what few teams have been able to do this season, as the first-year team from just 45 minutes down the road silenced the famed “Ruckus Row” and took the final two games of the series.
The Stampede came out strong in Friday night’s opener, as they used the home crowd to their advantage and scored in bunches in a 5-4 win.
Goals from Maans Gustavsson, Russell Armbruster and Liam Slyne paced the Stampede to a 3-1 first period lead, with a short handed marker from Scott Smoot being the lone tally of the opening frame for the visitors.
Slyne’s second of the game, scored 3:46 into the second, made it 4-1 in favor of Cheyenne and the roll continued just 34 seconds later, as veteran forward Heath Lantz scored to make it 5-1, as the Stampede had all of the momentum.
Levi Weber’s goal at 9:18 of the period gave Colorado some life and pulled them within three, before two more goals late in the period, scored just 28 seconds apart with under a minute left, stunned the crowd and made it just a one-goal Cheyenne lead, as Nick Davison put one home at 19:31 and Weber notched his second of the period with one second left on the big board.
Colorado continued to come on strong in the third and slung 16 shots on Stampede goaltender Rasmus Hansson but the Swede stopped every one of them, as he and his team hung on for an exciting 5-4 victory.
Hansson finished the night with 46 saves on 50 shots, while Slyne, Alexander Andersson and Jacob Eisenstat each recorded two points to lead the way offensively.
Defenseman Kyle Arenson had three assists to lead Colorado, while Eric Messer took the loss in net, allowing five goals on 22 shots, before Quinn Wold took over for him and stopped all 16 he faced.
The next night, it was the Jr. Eagles that lit the lamp in bunches and tied the series at one, behind a 6-2 victory.
Alexander Andersson got the Stampede out to a 1-0 lead with his goal at 12:09 of the opening frame but Mitch Coan converted on the power play late in the period to knot it up for Colorado.
The Jr. Eagles then took over in the second, scoring all four goals in the period to take a 5-1 lead into the third.
At 1:56, Jackson Wallis gave them the lead for good with his goal, Mitch Coan added on to it less than two minutes later and power play goals late in the period from Lance Pennington and Levi Weber, scored just 41 seconds apart, blew the game wide open.
A Branko Oktavec power play goal early in the third gave the Stampede some life but it wouldn’t last, as Collin Abitz put one home at 6:48 and the Jr. Eagles held on for the win.
Coan finished the game with four points, while his linemates Abitz and Smoot had three and two points, respectively. Quinn Wold, who was the team’s starter for most of the season before Messer came on board in January, stopped 27 of 29 to earn the victory in net.
Cheyenne was led by leading scorer Alexander Andersson and his two pints, while Rasmus Hansson took the loss in net, stopping 13 of 18 before Sam Mallory took over and stopped 9 of 10.
With most expecting a tight game in the finale, the Jr. Eagles controlled the contest from start to finish, with Steve Haddon’s top line of Collin Abitz, Mitch Coan and Scott Smoot combining for 10 points in an 8-0 shellacking.
Abitz opened up the scoring with the first two goals of the first period to get his team out to a 2-0 lead, before they exploded for five straight in the second.
Lance Pennington, Kyle Robison, Kyle Arenson, Luke Galatiuk and Scott Smoot each tallied in the middle frame, which all but wrapped up the win.
In a well-played and calm third period, which is a nod to the Stampede players and coach Gary Gill, the Jr. Eagles got another from Coan and sealed the win, as they’re now moving on to face Phoenix this weekend.
Quinn Wold, who looks like he’s taken his starting job back, was sensational in the win, stopping all 31 shots he faced, including a number early on.
Cheyenne native Sam Mallory got the start in goal for the Stampede and was very strong early on but wound up getting pulled in the second period once the onslaught began and after Fredrik Radbjer didn’t fare much better, Mallory took the ice for the third.
In total, the veteran stopped 28 of 33 in the loss.
Colorado came back from the brink of defeat when they could have easily folded it up and nobody would have said anything, as first year teams aren’t expected to go into hostile territory and win a series after being down 1-0.
They came back strong however, quieted a large crowd and are moving on because of it, while still playing a strong team game, with some newfound punch up front.
The scene in Cheyenne was fantastic, as the town really loves their team and rooted for them until the very end but unfortunately for them, this marks the third straight year they’ve been knocked out in the opening round of the playoffs.
This team has carved out a niche as one of the toughest teams in the league to play against and with Gill making some major strides with discipline this season, they were right up there with some of the top teams.
They’ll certainly be back and their loyal fans will be waiting.
#1 seed: Idaho Jr. Steelheads win series 2-1 over #4 seed: Missoula Maulers
Games played at Manchester Ice and Events Centre in McCall, Idaho
In the most defensive series of the weekend, the three-time defending champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads got a stiff test from the fourth-seeded Missoula Maulers but ultimately found a way to pull out a win on Sunday and will host the Ogden Mustangs this weekend with a chance to take home another Northwest Division title.
Against a team that plays a similar style, Idaho put on a defensive clinic in the opener on Friday night, as they held the Maulers to 17 shots on goal and won by a score of 3-0.
After a scoreless opening frame, where both teams felt each other out, Victor Carlsson got the scoring started for Idaho with his power play goal at 10:55 of the middle period.
With no other scoring, the Jr. Steelheads took the lead into the intermission and sealed it in the third, as Macky Power made it 2-0 at 14:42 and Jesper Jensen put it on ice at 17:11.
Carlsson finished the game with two points to lead Idaho, while Sean Healy stopped all 17 shots he faced for the shutout win in net.
Veteran netminder Cody Janzen was strong for Missoula but took the loss, stopping 38 of 40 total on the night.
The Maulers are no strangers to adversity, having climbed out of the Northwest Division cellar to make the playoffs in the second half of the season and showed that strength again on Saturday night, never backing down and extending the series in a 3-2 win.
Despite getting outshot heavily, to the tune of 40-16, the Maulers made the most of their chances and a few of their big forwards turned it on at the right time in the win.
Veteran forward Erich Jaeger got the scoring started with his power play goal at 3:34 of the opening period and Missoula held that lead until leading scorer Cory Schafer extended it to 2-0 with an unassisted goal scored 7:16 into the second period.
Idaho would get within a single goal twice in the middle period, as Ben Hull got them on the board but was answered by Henrik Ekestahl just three minutes later. Victor Carlsson then put home his second goal of the weekend for Idaho but Missoula took a 3-2 lead into the locker room and behind a number of key saves from Janzen in the third, held on for the win.
Janzen, who has fought through injuries and a three-goaltender rotation to rise to the top this year, stopped 38 of 40 in a another excellent performance.
Normally the back up to Sean Healy, Danny Kowalski, got the start for Idaho and was pulled after allowing three goals on 11 shots. Healy stopped all five shots he faced after coming on in relief.
The Maulers were right there in the finale on Sunday but were only able to convert on two of their 11 power play chances, while Idaho went 3-3 and added a short handed marker in a 5-2 victory.
Victor Carlsson scored the lone goal of the opening period and the Jr. Steelheads came out hard in the second to make it 4-0, behind goals from Hunter Lester, Jesper Jensen and Ben Hull.
Missoula didn’t go away however and got on the board late in the second on a Max Rebholz power play goal but Idaho seemed to put it away midway through the third, as Dimitris Jones snuck one through while on the power play to make it 5-1 at the time.
Billy Bigham would notch another power play goal for Missoula late but that would be it, as Idaho won 5-2.
Healy stopped 18 of 20 for the win in net, while Carlsson, Hull, Randy Patzner and Oskar Af Bjur each collected two points for the Steelies.
Janzen took the loss in the Missoula crease and was replaced by Sebastian Gronborg late in the third after sustaining and injury in a collision.
Idaho faced a stiff task but overcame in the end behind a staunch defense and the goaltending of Healy, who has been a rock in net.
They aren’t as crisp as they were this time a year ago and aren’t scoring at nearly the same rate but their defensive style and mistake-free brand of hockey is still a winner and they’ll need it when they welcome in Ogden for the Northwest Division title this weekend.
Missoula’s first season of WSHL play started off rather ominously but Marcus Baxter stayed the course and got his team to fight hard and turn it around in the second half.
They pushed one of the top teams in junior hockey to the edge but just didn’t have enough in the end. A perennial contender in every league they’ve played in, expect to see them get off to a better start in the fall and have an easier time because of it.
#2 seed: Ogden Mustangs win series 2-0 over #3 seed: Salt Lake City Moose
Games played at The Ice Sheet in Ogden, Utah
The Salt Lake City Moose narrowed the gap between them and the nearby rival Ogden Mustangs this season but the Stangs proved they’re still the team to beat in the state of Utah, as they swept the first-ever playoff meeting between the two teams and are moving on to face Idaho for the division title this weekend.
In a series that many believed would require a decisive third game, the Mustangs took care of business with a pair of three-goal wins and seem to be playing their best hockey of the season at exactly the right time.
They say big players are at their best in big games and that seems to be the case for Ogden forward Jimmy Peplinski, who just over a week ago notched a hat-trick in the Mustang’s last game of the regular season, which helped propel them to the number two seed and gave them home ice, which obviously was a huge boost in the series.
The former NAHLer followed that up with another hat trick in game one against the Moose and the Mustangs made the most of their chances in a 5-2 victory.
Despite being outshot 29-21 on the night and 17-13 in the opening period, Ogden led 3-0 after 20 minutes of play on a Craig Moore goal scored just 44 seconds into regulation and two more from Peplinski late in the period.
6:08 into the second, the Moose were able to pull within two on a goal by veteran forward Martin Tolkner but Peplinski finished his hat trick just 48 seconds later while on the power play, enabling the Stangs to took a 4-1 lead into the locker room.
With his sister Brianna, who helped Team USA women’s hockey to a silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, in attendance, Brody Decker gave the Mustangs a commanding 5-1 lead just 2:02 into the third period.
Salt Lake City would try and mount a comeback as the period went along, getting within three on a goal by Adam Kresl near the middle part of the period but they would get no closer in the loss.
Peplinski added an assist to his three goals to finish the game with four points, while Decker, Moore and David Clements each notched two. Tyler Fallica was strong in net as usual as the veteran turned aside 26 of 28 in the win.
Brad Robertson got the start in goal for the Moose and was pulled just about half way through the contest after allowing four goals on 14 shots and Ryan Gasparovic stopped six of seven after coming on in relief.
Saturday night’s game was a little more wide open, as the two teams combined for 89 shots on goal but Fallica stymied the Moose once again and guided the Mustangs to a 4-1 win.
After a scoreless opening period, Brody Decker’s second goal of the weekend gave Ogden the lead just 3:16 into the middle frame. Just about four minutes later however, the Moose knotted things up as Adam Kresl notched his second of the series, as well.
We said that one of the keys coming into the weekend could be special teams play, as in such an evenly-matched series, any advantage is huge and the Mustangs had the better power play and penalty numbers during the regular season.
They were the better of the two in the playoffs, a well, as Ogden got a huge power play marker near the middle part of the period to take the lead for good, as David Clements blasted one home to make it 2-1 in favor of the home team.
Jon Mencer would extend the lead to 3-1 with his goal at 9:05 of the third and Schuyler Seyfert iced it win an empty-netter, as the Mustangs are moving on to the divisional finals for the first time in the short three-year history of the team.
Decker, Mencer and Cam Russell each finished the game with two points to lead Ogden, while Fallica stopped 47 of 48 in net in another excellent performance.
Ryan Gasparovic was strong in the Salt Lake crease but wound up taking the loss while allowing three goals on 40 shots.
I can’t say enough just how big the win over Idaho was last weekend for Ogden, as opening the playoffs on home ice was a huge advantage and they made the most of it and going into McCall this weekend, they know they have the ability to beat the top team in the division.
Jake Laime has this team playing determined hockey and they are really tough to deal with when on top of their game, as they can throw a little bit of everything at you. With Fallica in the zone and a number of forwards pitching in, the Mustangs are going to give the Jr. Steelheads all they can handle.
The results weren’t there in the playoffs but the Salt Lake City Moose’s first full season under Jeff Carr was nothing short of a gigantic success.
The former cellar dwellers recruited well, got a number of key veterans to return and improved drastically on their record.
Not only were they a better all around team but the number one mission of the WSHL is to help players improve, on and off the ice and give them a shot at playing college hockey and Carr and his staff did that, as veterans that were role players last season, like David Barnes and Martin Tolkner, were outstanding from start to finish and grew tremendously in just one year.
This isn’t the end but just the beginning for this team, as they are still relatively young and had some of, if not the best depth in the league during the regular season and will surely be back and fighting in the fall, with Carr already locked up to a two-year contract extension.
#1 seed: Fresno Monsters win series 2-0 over #4 seed: Long Beach Bombers
Games played at Gateway Ice Center in Fresno, California
The Long Beach Bombers rolled into Fresno to open the playoffs having won 13 straight games to clinch a playoff spot and take the league by storm. The top-seeded Monsters were ready for them however and will play for the Western Division title for the fourth straight season after a two-game sweep.
Looking to shake off the moniker of a team that is great in the regular season and has trouble finding consistency in the playoffs, the Monsters got off to a great start against a very talented hockey team, as they trusted the system, stuck to the plan and used their depth to pull out two wins.
Despite outshooting the visiting Bombers 31-14 through 40 minutes of play in the opener on Friday night, the Monsters found themselves trailing 3-1 but instead of folding it up they came on strong in the third and scored three unanswered goals to win 4-3.
Evan Ingram’s power play marker got Fresno out to the early 1-0 lead at 4:32 of the opening frame but the Bombers came back with two before the end of the period to take a lead into the intermission.
Rugged forward Blake Sundy knotted the game up with his goal at 12:20 and Martin Vachal tallied on the power play late in the period to make it 2-1.
Rookie forward Konstantin Kotkov, who’s had a great first season of north American hockey, extended the Long Beach lead to 3-1 with is goal at 2:30 of the period and Jakub Krejci made a number of big saves to help carry that lead into the third.
Whatever Fresno head coach Bryce Dale said to his team in between periods, it worked, as they came out on fire to begin the third, getting within one just 40 seconds in, as veteran defenseman Gunnar Dircks put one home on the power play to get the momentum going.
With the pressure intensifying, Ingram added his second of the game at 8:20 to knot it up at three and just six seconds later, Jacob Haynes scored what would stand up to be the game-winner, in a 4-3 victory.
Ingram’s two points led the Monsters on the night, while Austin Piquette, who came on in relief of starter Jerry Kaukinen, stopped all 15 shots he faced to earn the victory in net.
An emphasis on stopping the Bombers powerful top line seemed to work for the Monsters, as although Vachal tallied a goal, neither Filip Martinec nor Tomas Nemeth, who finished one-two in league scoring with 109 and 104 points, respectively, tallied a point in the games.
Krejci was strong in net despite taking the loss, as the Czech netminder allowed four goals on 48 shots in the Bombers crease.
The Monsters found a way to turn it up late once more the next night, as they notched five of the game’s last six goals in a 9-5 win and series sweep.
Unlike the night before however, Fresno was unable to contain the Bombers top forward line, as Tomas Nemeth collected four points, Martin Vachal scored twice and Filip Martinec added one of his own but it didn’t matter, as the Monsters had three players record three points in the win.
Gunnar Dircks got the scoring started at 3:25 of the opening period to pace the Monsters to a 1-0 lead but it didn’t last long, as Vachal and Martinec scored less than two minutes apart to give Long Beach a 2-1 lead.
Surging back ahead however, Fresno got power play goals by Filip Winkler, his first of three goals on the night and another from Jacob Haynes to take a 3-2 lead into the locker room.
4:16 into the second, the score was tied again after Konstantin Kotkov pulled the Bombers even but Winkler’s second of the night, scored at 7:50 of the second period, gave Fresno the lead back.
After Nemeth got the Bombers even once again at 11:19, Fresno then pulled away for good, as Winkler completed his hat trick on the power play at 16:40 and leading scorer Mike Nolan made it 6-4 late in the middle stanza.
Give Long Beach credit, as they didn’t go down without a fight, getting back within one early in the third on another Vachal goal but Fresno put it away, as Evan Ingram, Jacob Haynes and Conner Osborne finished off the 9-5 win.
Winkler, Nolan and Ingram each tallied three points to lead Fresno to the victory, while Austin Piquette stopped 17 of 21 in net to earn the win, despite being replaced by Jerry Kaukinen to begin the third.
Nemeth’s four points led the Bombers in the loss, while his linemate Vachal, along with Marcus Viitanen and Mikael Lengmo each added two points.
Krejci took the loss in net, as he allowed six goals on 29 shots in 40 minutes of work, before Talon Miller took over to begin the third and the veteran stopped 12 of 14.
Many thought this could be the upset special in the opening round but the Monsters were very well prepared and didn’t’ sit back for a second, attacking the Bombers top players and not allowing them to control play.
They got great efforts from their bigger forwards and although the goaltending wasn’t great, they did enough to beat a team that can score in bunches.
They’ll host the Ontario Avalanche this weekend, as they look to avenge last season’s heartbreaking loss to the then Bay Area Seals in game three of the Western Division Finals.
Just a few months ago, it looked like the Long Beach Bombers were destined to miss the playoffs for the sixth straight season but behind a focus on defense, Chris White an his team did a complete 180 and rattled off 13 straight to make it in.
Throughout the regular season, they showcased one of the best offenses the league has ever seen, with not only guys like Martinec and Nemeth doing well but also newcomers like Viitanen, Beatty, Kotkov and more.
They could have easily packed it in and given up but they overcame adversity and gained a ton of momentum, which they’ll surely take into the offseason.
#2 seed: Ontario Avalanche win series 2-1 over #3 seed: Valencia Flyers
Games played at Center Ice Arena in Ontario, California
After falling behind 1-0 in a series that pitted two Southern California-based teams against one another, the Ontario Avalanche fought back to beat the Valencia Flyers in overtime in games two and three and are moving on to play for the division title because of their ability to score clutch goals.
A Luke Rendino goal, scored 5:28 into Friday night’s opener, gave the Avalanche the early lead in game one but the Flyers came back to rattle off four straight and took the lead for good, holding off a couple Ontario comeback in a 6-5 victory.
After Rendino’s goal, the Flyers fired back with goals from Austin Ehrlich and Adam Papayoanou, scored just 21 seconds apart and then got two more from Blake Aguilar and Luc Whyte late in the period, which were scored 1:03 apart.
Trailing 4-1, the Avs got a big boost on a penalty shot goal by forward Alex Roihjert, as the Swede beat Valencia goaltender Mark Becica with 2:26 left in the first period.
Leading 4-2 after the opening 20, the Flyers allowed the Avalanche to get back within one twice in the second, as Carl Hallberg’s goal early in the period made it 4-3, while Niklas McPherson made it 5-4 just a few seconds after Zach Paxman gave Valencia the two-goal lead back.
The two teams then traded goals once more in the third, as Austin Ehrlich’s second of the game made it 6-4 Valencia at the 8:08 mark, before Michael Thomas made it 6-5 at 13:30 but Ontario could never get even again in the loss.
Ehrlich, Aguilar and Aharon Lara each recorded two points in the victory, while Luke Thompson, who took over for starter Mark Becica midway through regulation, stopped four of five for the win in the Valencia crease.
Roihjert and Zechariah Roberts each notched two points to lead Ontario, while Drake Koegel stopped 32 of 38 in net.
Despite shots being high the next night, as the two teams combined for 94, the score was not, thanks to great goaltending performances by Luke Thompson of Valencia and Daniel Cepila of Ontario.
After a scoreless opening frame, the two teams traded goals in the second period, as Carl Hallberg got Ontario at the board at 6:09 and the Flyers answered with a Blake Aguilar goal at 10:32.
After neither team was able to light the lamp in the third period either, the two headed to overtime tied at one and with just 1:42 left before the buzzer in that period, Brett Norman put one home to lift the Avs to the victory, with fellow vets Ben Meadows and Luke Rendino providing assists.
Cepila stopped 49 of 50 in the win for Ontario, while Thompson stopped 42 of 44 for Valencia.
The finale, which was another disciplined game featuring very few penalty calls, was more high scoring but featured similar results, as the Avalanche got a goal late in the third to force overtime, before winning it in the second overtime period.
Two Austin Ehrlich goals over the first two periods and one each for Ontario from Brett Norman and Lubomir Fetkovic had the rivals tied up after 40 minutes of play.
The Flyers then looked like they were on their way to their second trip to the Western Division finals in three years, as they took a 5-3 lead early in the period on goals by Luc Whyte and Aharon Lara but the Avalanche didn’t slow down for a second.
Carl Hallberg would pull the home team within one with his goal at 9:38 and with just six seconds left on the clock and an extra attacker on the ice, Luke Rendino proved clutch again for the Avs, as he banged one home and forced overtime.
Despite being outshot 14-5 in the first overtime period, the Flyers were able to hold on and get into the locker room behind some huge saves from Thompson.
13:52 into the second overtime period however, Collin Warner put back a rebound after Rendino rang the post and the Avalanche poured onto the ice in a 5-4 win.
Warner finished the game with four points, while Rendino had three and Cepila stopped 44 of 48 in net.
Ehrlich and Paxman each had two points in the loss for Valencia, while Thompson stopped 56 of 61 in a great performance in net.
A year after narrowly missing the playoffs, the Avalanche were determined to not only get in but make it far once they got there.
Fighting back after a loss in game one, winning in overtime on Saturday, forcing overtime late on Sunday and then winning in double overtime in that same game shows what kind of team Chris Shaw has and they give it their all every time they touch the ice.
They now head to Fresno to face a team they’ve done very well against this season, in what should be an absolute battle for the division title.
The Flyers first season under Josh Berge was outstanding, as with a small and inexperienced team, they consistently battled with elite squads and overcame a lot of obstacles to make it in.
They may have not made it as far as they would have liked but Berge set the tone for seasons to come and three straight playoff appearances has them looking like a perennial contender in the Western Division.
HockeyWolf Three Stars of the Week
1. Jordan Cullum (Forward, Phoenix Knights)- After slowing down a bit toward the end of a fantastic regular season, Phoenix Knights forward Jordan Cullum picked it right back up again in the playoffs. Playing alongside Ryan McNeely, who scored six goals of his own in the series victory over Boulder, Cullum notched four goals and six assists to help the Knights come back from a 1-0 series deficit.
2. Collin Abitz (Forward, Colorado Jr. Eagles)- The Colorado Jr. Eagles are headed to the divisional finals in just their first season of WSHL play after they went into hostile territory and took down the rival Cheyenne Stampede. Steve Haddon’s top line of Collin Abitz, Mitch Coan and Scott Smoot, who were all acquired near the trade deadline, was unstoppable, combining for 21 points and helping their team climb out of a 1-0 series hole. Abitz, who earned the WSHL’s third star last week, led all scorers in the series with nine points.
3. Tyler Fallica (Goaltender, Ogden Mustangs)- The Ogden Mustangs made quick work of the rival Salt Lake City Moose over the weekend and will be playing for their first-ever Northwest Division title. A lot of their success over the past two seasons can come back to goaltender Tyler Fallica, who has been as consistent as they come for head coach Jake Laime. The recent Worcester State commit stopped 74 of the 77 shots that the Moose threw at him and helped the Mustangs to the series sweep even though they were outshot in both games.
Honorable Mentions: Matthew Plesa (El Paso Rhinos), Peter Plesa (El Paso Rhinos), Alexander Lehnbom (Dallas Snipers), Jimmy Peplinski (Ogden Mustangs), Brody Decker (Ogden Mustangs), Martin Tolkner (Salt Lake City Moose), Filip Winkler (Fresno Monsters), Evan Ingram (Fresno Monsters), Gunnar Dircks (Fresno Monsters), Tomas Nemeth (Long Beach Bombers), Martin Vachal (Long Beach Bombers), Chris Schutz (Dallas Ice Jets), Bryan Siersma (Dallas Ice Jets), Landyn Howze (Texas), Austin Murray (Texas), Ryan McNeely (Phoenix Knights), Mitch Cobby (Phoenix Knights), Charles Joly (Boulder Bison), Alejandro Ochoa (Boulder Bison), Scott Smoot (Colorado Jr. Eagles), Mitch Coan (Colorado Jr. Eagles) Kyle Arenson (Colorado Jr. Eagles), Quinn Wold (Colorado Jr. Eagles), Liam Slyne (Cheyenne Stampede), Filip Oravec (Cheyenne Stampede), Victory Carlsson (Idaho Jr. Steelheads), Ben Hull (Idaho Jr. Steelheads), Sean Healy (Idaho Jr. Steelheads), Cody Janzen (Missoula Maulers), Erich Jaeger (Missoula Maulers), Luke Rendino (Ontario Avalanche), Collin Warner (Ontario Avalanche), Austin Ehrlich (Valencia Flyers), Luke Thompson (Valencia Flyers)