Both games on the second-to-last day of the Thorne Cup
Finals were meaningless, as far as the standings were concerned but it didn't
stop the four finalists from putting on a show in El Paso.
Game One: Idaho Jr.
Steelheads (Mountain Division Champions) vs. Dallas Ice Jets (Mid-West Division
The two top dogs got a little preview of one another on
Saturday afternoon, as the two teams that will meet on Sunday for the title
faced off in the matinee contest.
Just like their game the previous night against El Paso,
Idaho came out flying and jumped out to a big lead early on.
The Jr. Steelheads were well in control to begin the game
but Dallas' defense did a good job of keeping everything to the outside of
goaltender Michael Baldwin.
With 12:04 left in the opening frame, Idaho broke through
and began their early dominance.
Gustafsson made a beautiful spin move at the opposing blue line to get by
two Dallas defenders, before feeding a speeding Ivo Crhak on the wing, who beat Baldwin with a wrist shot over the
Sean Van Eysden's
goal with 8:12 left pushed the Idaho lead to 2-0, as the veteran forward
corralled a rebound off the end boards and beat a prone Baldwin.
Not even two minutes later, Jake Webber's long point shot squeaked thru Baldwin to make it 3-0
Idaho at the 13:18 mark of the period.
The shots were close over the opening 20 minutes but Idaho
made their opportunities count, scoring on three of their six shots and holding
a commanding lead heading into the break.
The comeback kids were at it again in the second period
however, as Dallas continued their "never say die" attitude and got within two
on Christian Elsborg's eighth goal
of the post-season, 3:26 into the middle period.
Although they were narrowly outshot again, the Ice Jets
controlled the better portion of the period but two odd-man rush chances were
turned away nicely by Idaho goaltender Josh
Benton had to be good again in the third, as Dallas played
one of their best periods of the tournament so far.
They had the power play working early in the period and
nearly got within a goal when Joey
Matyaszek's wrist shot rang the post from the high slot.
Benton then went on to make two big stops, one on a Greg Sauers' breakaway chance and
another on Austin Azurdia's wrister
on a two-on-one break just minutes later.
Tommy Mines' wrister
found its way through Benton off a set faceoff play with 5:15 left in
regulation and suddenly, it was a one-goal game.
The Ice Jets were able to kill off a late penalty and had
their own chance with a power play as time ticked down but Idaho was ultimately
too strong on the penalty kill and held on for the 3-2 win.
The first period was probably the best of the tournament for
Idaho but they seemed to pack it in over the final two, which I'm sure is
something Head Coach John Olver will address before tomorrow's game.
In their defense, a few of their top players were being
rested for the championship game, while Dallas played to their full capacity.
Benton was the deserving winner in net for Idaho, stopping
18 of the 20 shots he saw, while Baldwin took the loss for Dallas, despite bouncing
back after a sub-par opening period.
The two teams will meet again Sunday with the title on the
line and it will be interesting to see if they learned anything from today's precursor.
Player of the Game: Josh
Benton (Goaltender, Idaho Jr. Steelheads)
Game Two: El Paso
Rhinos (Mid-West Division Champions) vs. Fresno Monsters (Western Division
The final game of the season for both the El Paso Rhinos and
Fresno Monsters meant nothing in terms of the standings but you wouldn't of
known that by just watching the game.
With only pride on the line, both squads played as if it were
the championship game, going back and forth all evening and battling until the
Fresno started strong and kicked-off the scoring 9:39 into
the opening period, while on a five-on-three power play.
El Paso failed to clear the zone twice and the Monsters made
them pay, as Kyle Godfrey found a
wide-open Zach Alvarez at the side
of the Rhinos' net, who easily one-timed a shot past goaltender Trent Caspar to make it 1-0.
Both squads carried the momentum at times in the opening
frame, while attempting to impose their will but both defenses were strong,
allowing few even strength chances.
The hometown kid, Michael
Rivera stuffed home a power play marker late in the second period, knotting
the game at one, before Caspar made the save of the tournament so far.
Just minutes after El Paso tied it, Fresno went on a 5-on-3
power play and veteran forward Don Coyle
took a cross crease pass and looked to have an empty net.
Caspar slid from right to left and trapped the puck just
before it crossed the goal line, keeping the game even.
El Paso had a golden opportunity just seconds into the third
period but couldn't convert on another two-man advantage and just seconds
later, Fresno regained the lead.
Forward Nick McKee
stole the puck in the neutral zone and flipped the puck ahead to line mate Marc
Haaf, who broke in one-on-one against Caspar, beating him five-hole with 15:33
left in regulation.
Not even two minutes later, El Paso tied it up again, as David Nelson finished off a beautiful
tic-tac-toe passing play from Brenden
Gust with 13:53 left on the board.
The pace really picked up from that point on, as neither team
wanted to be the only one to finish winless on the tournament.
With 4:04 remaining, the Rhinos took their first lead of the
game, as John Morales scored while
on the power play to make it 3-2 El Paso.
The Monsters would push hard late but could not beat Caspar,
as the Rhinos pleased the home crowd one last time and held on for the victory.
Caspar took the win in net for the Rhinos, stopping 37 of
the 39 shots he faced, while Tom
McGuckin allowed three goals on 42 shots in the loss.
For the third straight season the Monsters dominated the
regular season and for the third straight season, they are void of a Thorne Cup
El Paso meanwhile, came in as one of the hotter teams in the
post-season but could never seem to get it together for a full 60 minutes and
finished in third place.
Despite a tough tournament for both teams, they are both perennial
powers in the league and will surely be right back in the thick of things in
Player of the Game: Trent
Caspar (Goaltender, El Paso Rhinos)
After six long months of exciting hockey, it all comes down
to Sunday afternoon's contest between the defending champion Idaho Jr.
Steelheads and the upstart Dallas Ice Jets.
4:30 PM MST- Idaho
Jr. Steelheads (3-0-0) vs. Dallas Ice Jets (2-1-0)