The last weekend of the Western States Hockey League's
regular season was a quiet one, as all of the heated playoff position battles
had died down and nothing was left to prove but bragging rights in every
division but one.
The only possible movement was in the Western Division,
where if the San Diego Gulls lost in regulation to both Long Beach and
Valencia, the Flyers would be able to overtake the Gulls for second place and
enjoy home ice in the opening round.
The Texas Brahmas and New Mexico Renegades were the only two
teams to clash over three games, while the Snipers and Ice Jets met in another
home-at-home series in the state of Texas.
An outdoor game between Park City and Ogden was cancelled
and subsequently forfeited due to complications with ice conditions and Park
City finished up their season the next evening with a single game in Idaho, who
looked to be the only team in the league to go undefeated at home over the
entire regular season.
New Mexico Renegades
(18-26-2, 4th in Mid-West Division) @ Texas Brahmas (28-17-1, 3rd
in Mid-West Division)
The Texas Brahmas could be the most feared team in the
Mid-West Division heading into the playoffs, as Head Coach Jeremy Law has his
team fired up and playing their best hockey of the year.
New Mexico has backtracked since a decently successful
showcase and must figure out their problems quickly, as El Paso awaits them in
the opening round of playoffs.
In game one of the series, the Brahmas outshot the visitors
58-23 and pulled away late in a 6-1 thrashing of the Renegades.
Josh Gray picked
up a goal and an assist and Joakim
Moritz continued his hot goaltending of late, stopping 22 of the 23 shots
he faced in the Brahmas' win.
The next night the Brahmas continued what has been a group
effort all season, as 11 of their 18 skaters picked up at least a point in a
Again, the goaltending was strong, as this time Zane Sampson turned aside all but one
of the 29 shots he saw.
goal 1:53 into the final game of the regular season for both teams, gave New
Mexico their first and only lead of the weekend.
Texas fired back with three straight before the end of the
period however and held a 3-2 lead after 20 minutes of play.
Over the final two periods the Brahmas turned up the heat
and outscored the Renegades 6-2 en route to a 9-3 victory and series sweep.
Again, 11 different skaters tallied at least one point in
the Texas victory, with Brittan Morris'
hat-trick leading the way.
The Brahmas finished up the season by winning five of their
last six contests and are a completely different team that they were in
September. Many players have returned from various other leagues and have
combined with a solid core, which includes offensive studs Kevin Filthaut, Quade Hamlin
and Connor Tamai, to form a very
tough offense to contain. They will meet the Dallas Ice Jets in the first round
of the playoffs, a team they split six games with in the regular season.
New Mexico has officially backed into the playoffs after
losing six straight games to end the regular season. They have decent offensive
firepower but goaltending has been an issue all season and it must be fixed before
a Friday night contest in El Paso, where the place is sure to be jumping'.
Dallas Snipers (5-41-0,
5th in Mid-West Division) vs. Dallas Ice Jets (29-12-5, 2nd
in Mid-West Division) **Home-at-Home Series**
For the second straight weekend, the Snipers stayed in state
for a quick home-at-home series and for the second straight weekend, they were
trampled with relative ease.
Game one was the Ice Jets' last home game of the regular
season and they did not fail to disappoint, routing the Snipers by a score of
13-1 in front of the home crowd.
Elsborg and Chace Jackson picked
up six points on the night, while Joseph
Matyaszek, Austin Rehwinkel and Jefferson Wright added three each.
The next evening the Snipers finished up their home slate but
were once again beaten down by a much more talented Ice Jets squad, losing 9-2
and dropping their seventh in a row in the process.
Christian Elsborg, Dan
Hudson and Johnny Henson each
notched four points in the win, as the Ice Jets finished up one of the stronger
inaugural campaigns in recent memory.
Despite not having a single player in the league's top 40
scorers, the Ice Jets continue to play every team tough. They play an all
around team game and get scoring from all four lines, while also getting help
from a hulking backend. Their goaltending is one of the league's elite and the
same can be said for their coaching, as Paul Taylor has done a fantastic job of
turning this team into a real threat in year one. They will meet the Brahmas in
round one of the playoffs, in what will be a series to watch.
The Snipers are at the other end of the spectrum but are
also coached by a great hockey mind, in Tom Yockey. They struggled all season
but were led offensively by Shane Bonds
and Arnie Osuna, who both narrowly
missed the 50-point mark in their rookie seasons of junior hockey. The good
news is that there is plenty of talent in the greater-Dallas area; they just
need to be lured to the Snipers over the summer.
San Diego Gulls
(24-17-5, 2nd in Western Division) @ Long Beach Bombers (16-27-3, 5th
in Western Division)
The Long Beach Bombers and San Diego Gulls have always
played one another tough. This season, San Diego has had the obvious advantage,
winning all four contests until a Bombers' shootout win complicated matters for
the Gulls last weekend.
With Valencia hot on their tail, the Gulls clinched second
place and home ice with a convincing win in Long Beach on Friday night.
Craig Carlyle's boys played like a team possessed, blasting
Long Beach in every facet of the game, on their way to the 6-0 victory.
The Gulls peppered Bombers' goaltender Salvatore Tecci with 66 shots over three periods, with Arseny Stoyakin and Weston Cydell each beating him twice,
while Tony Fiocco and Zen Hamil each sprinkled in a goal.
(23-17-6, 3rd in Western Division) @ San Diego Gulls (24-17-5, 2nd
in Western Division)
The next night San Diego returned home to face their first
round opponent, the Valencia Flyers, to finish up the regular season.
San Diego won the first three matches of the season against
their Western Division foe but the Flyers have heated up down the stretch and had
won the last two against the Gulls, coming in.
In a game that meant nothing for either team, Flyers' Head
Coach Jocelyn Langlois elected to rest a few of his top guys, including
leading-scorer Eddie Keshishian and
goaltender Stephen Palmer.
Thrust into the starter role was rookie Phil Contos, who made his first-career junior start and turned away
48 of the 50 Gulls' shots he faced, while picking up his first-career win.
Another rookie, forward Austin
Ehrlich, scored twice for Valencia, including an empty-netter to seal the
deal late in regulation.
Even though it meant nothing in the standings, as San Diego
finished just one point ahead of Valencia, the Flyers proved once again that
they can hang with the Gulls, winning the final three meetings of the season,
two of which were played in San Diego.
These two teams will meet in round one starting Friday
night, in what is sure to be one of the tightest series you will see.
Not only did Gulls' Head Coach Craig Carlyle finish up an
impressive first season at the helm in San Diego, his father, Randy, who guided
the Anaheim Ducks to a Stanley Cup Championship a few years back, was hired on
to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs. All I can say is; it's about time.
Park City Moose
(23-16-5, 5th in Mountain Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (16-23-3,
1st in Mountain Division)
To finish up a struggle of an inaugural season, the Park
City Moose made the trek to Boise to take on the Jr. Steelheads on Saturday
Idaho did their best to extend a league-best 25 game winning
streak, while also remaining perfect on the season at home.
Neither streak was challenged in the least bit, as Park City
proved no match for the Jr. Steelheads, who ran away with a 10-1 victory.
All but three skaters picked up at least one point for
Idaho, as Austin Parle's two goals
and two assists were tops on the night.
Idaho is a scary team that plays almost like an army under
Head Coach John Olver. They move in unison, everything they do is calculated
and they don't have a single weakness. They finished second to only Fresno in
the regular season, a team they lost two of three to very early in the season.
That is a series I will pay to watch if they meet again.
Park City finished their first season in the league without
a whimper, as their players have got to be exhausted from continually skating
short and against teams with much more talent. They will need to have a big
summer in terms of recruiting to hang in the Mountain Division anytime soon.
THREE STARS OF THE
Elsborg-Forward (Dallas Ice Jets)- The Dallas Ice Jets finished up a super successful
inaugural season with a two-game sweep of the Dallas Snipers. Christian Elsborg
is a Texas native who was picked up out of the NAHL just before the showcase and
has been a huge part of the Ice Jets' hot play since being acquired. In just 30
games in an Ice Jets sweater, Elsborg has tallied 30 points, including 10 in just
two games over the weekend against the Snipers.
Moritz-Goaltender (Texas Brahmas)- The Texas Brahmas finished up their
season strong as well, sweeping the New Mexico Renegades rather easily.
Goaltender Joakim Moritz has settled into a groove after a bumpy start to the
season, a good sign for Law and company heading into the playoffs where
goaltending is at a premium. The Swedish import won his final three starts,
including two against New Mexico over the weekend, where he gave up only four
goals on a combined 53 shots faced.
Contos-Goaltender (Valencia Flyers)- With nothing on the line in San Diego
on Saturday night, the Valencia Flyers turned to rookie goaltender Phil Contos
to make his first-career junior hockey start against a high-powered Gulls'
offense. The undersized goaltender took full advantage of the opportunity,
stopping 48 of the 50 shots he faced en route to his first-ever junior hockey
victory. The win may of meant nothing in the standings but it helped give
Valencia more momentum heading into a playoff matchup with the Gulls, who
they've now beaten three straight times.
It seems like just yesterday the regular season began, and
what a season it was around the WSHL! A season many wouldn't hesitate to tell
you was the league's best ever. The best has yet to come however, as the
following playoffs matchups are sure to be classics:
El Paso hosts #4 New Mexico
The Rhinos are playing the hockey everyone is
used to seeing from them after a rough patch midway through the season. New
Mexico has faltered as of late but has the offense to stick with anyone.
#2: Dallas Ice Jets hosts #3 Texas
Without a doubt this is the series to watch.
Travel is not an issue, as the two teams are separated by just a few miles.
They split the regular season series and are both playing top-notch hockey.
This should be a classic.
#1: Idaho hosts #4 Ogden
Idaho is the hottest team in the league,
bar-none. They finished up by winning their last 26 games and went 21-0-0 at
home. Ogden took the Jr. Steelheads to extra time once but will need more than
that to steal this series.
#2: Boulder hosts #3 Cheyenne
This is a very intriguing matchup, as Boulder
has a stranglehold on the regular season series but Cheyenne is a very
different team than they were even a month ago. Combine that with Boulder's
recent slump and it should make for an interesting series.
#1: Fresno hosts #4: Arizona
The Arizona Redhawks had their most successful
season to date and their reward for making the playoffs for the first time is a
trip to Fresno, a team they were swept by a week ago. In 18 all-time meetings,
Arizona has failed to best the Monsters but it is the playoffs, so records go
out the window.
#2: San Diego hosts #3: Valencia
The two closest teams, in terms of points on the
regular season, will meet in what should be a series very similar to the
Texas/Dallas in the Mid-West Division. They always player each other tough,
split the regular season series and the travel will not be an issue. Valencia
is the hotter team, winning the last three of the season series but San Diego
always shows up come playoff time.
Whatever happens, it's sure to be one of the most exciting
weekends in WSHL history, leading up to the Thorne Cup in El Paso, scheduled at
the end of the month.
Check back on Wednesday evening, as a playoff preview of
each series will be available for your reading pleasure.