Even with 22 member clubs for the 2012-2013 regular season, teams have consistently proven that any team can win on any night in the Western States Hockey League. That was never more apparent than this past weekend, when a few "underdogs" made some noise and even though the teams with the better records bounced back to take every series, the parity displayed should set up a great post-season.
Below is a summary of each weekend series/game:
Southern Oregon Spartans (18-13-0, 3rd in Northwest Division) @ Salt Lake City Moose (8-17-2, 5th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Salt Lake City, Utah
The Southern Oregon Spartans have been doing just fine since head coach Joe Grimaldi took the reigns to start the new year and they looked to keep their momentum alive during a weekend trip to Utah's capital.
Their opponent, the Salt Lake City Moose, may sit at the bottom of the Northwest Division standings but with games in-hand and a roster full of fight; the Spartans knew they couldn't take them lightly.
The opener was a tight-checking affair with defense and goaltending on display from both sides.
A good start was needed and that was exactly what Brian Giorgi did when he got the Moose on the board first, scoring 7:02 into the opening frame from Cole Corson and Patrick Dwyer.
After a scoreless second period, the Spartans turned up the heat in the third and tied the game 2:40 into the period on a Tommy Bennett marker, before Marcus Fred's goal, scored with 3:29 left in regulation, gave them a 2-1 victory.
The Spartans got off to a quick start the next night, as Avik Bordak put one home just 1:04 into the contest to pace Southern Oregon to an early lead.
Still trailing by a goal late in the opening period, the Moose power play, which has struggled most of the season, struck for two goals just 19 seconds apart, as Alex Pomerville and Wayne Hoffman each scored to give the home team the 2-1 lead heading into the break.
After things slowed down for most of the middle period, Tyler McConnell's goal, scored with 1:16 left before the second intermission, knotted the game at two.
After both teams went scoreless in the third period, they headed to overtime, which also saw no scoring.
In the shootout, goaltender Sean Buckley was once again perfect for Southern Oregon, stopping all three shooters he faced, while Jeff Salzbrunn, Mike Kowicki and Dan Doyle each converted at the other end, to give the Spartans the 3-2 shootout win.
In the finale, five different Moose scored goals and goaltender Alex Burdekin stopped 61 of the 63 shots he faced, in a big 5-2 win for Salt Lake City.
San Diego Gulls (18-13-2, 2nd in Pacific Division) @ Fresno Monsters (25-6-0, 1st in Pacific Division
Three-game series in Fresno, California
The Fresno Monsters have been atop the Pacific Division for most of the season but with a few of their top players recently getting promoted to the NAHL team, they faced a tough challenge in a weekend series with the San Diego Gulls.
With both Nick McKee and Justin Plate, who were one and two in team scoring prior to the weekend, enjoying a trip to Wenatchee, Washington with the NAHL Monsters squad, the WSHL team looked just fine in the opener on Friday.
Austin Browning, Cameron Coburn and Filip Winkler each scored in the opening period, to pace the Monsters to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
After Kyle Godfrey notched the lone goal of the second period to make it 4-0, the Monsters kept it coming in the third, as both Godfrey and Winkler added their second markers of the game to make it 6-0 Fresno.
The Gulls would get a late power play goal from Tyler Giovannetti but that would be it, as the Monsters proved they're not just a one-line hockey team and stomped San Diego by a score of 6-1.
The next night was much different however, as the Monsters got off their game a bit, racked up a ton of penalty minutes and fell by a score of 4-2.
They did get off to a good start however, as Cameron Coburn gave the Monsters a 1-0 lead just 2:36 into regulation but the lead wouldn't last long.
Eric Baldwin and Cody Jahrig each scored for San Diego before the end of the period, giving the Gulls a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.
Baldwin notched his second of the game 6:49 into the second period and David Mulacek added one of his own just 1:11 later, to blow the game wide open.
The Monsters got within two late in regulation on a Dalton Holt goal but it wouldn't be enough to help them overcome 128 penalty minutes and allowing three power play goals.
The game got out of hand late but lost in the shuffle of everything was the return of goaltender Tom McGuckin, who started his first game of the year, after missing the first half of the season while battling cancer.
Things slowed down in the finale, in terms of both goals and penalties, as each team looked a little worn out after Saturday night's shenanigans.
The two teams traded goals in the second period and neither was able to find twine in the first and third periods.
After overtime solved nothing, Brenden Manquen stopped four of the five San Diego shooters he faced in the shootout, while Carter Dahl's goal ended up being the winner for Fresno, in a 2-1 shootout victory.
Boulder Bison (16-12-2, 3rd in Mountain Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (30-1-1, 1st in Northwest Division)
Three-game series played Friday and Saturday in McCall and Sunday in Boise, Idaho
You see it in many different sports and even when the records and prognosticators would say otherwise, some teams just know how to play in a certain building and despite taking two of the three games from the series, I'm sure the Idaho Jr. Steelheads will be happy to not see the Boulder Bison in McCall, Idaho again this year.
Last season, the Bison snapped Idaho's 28-game home winning streak with a big playoff victory and almost knocked the eventual Thorne Cup Champions out of the playoffs the next day.
Each game in the series was close and even Idaho Head Coach John Olver said the series could have gone either way.
This past weekend, the two teams met again in McCall, this time as non-divisional foes and Boulder proved they can more than keep up once again.
It looked like it would be all Idaho early on in the opener, as Jan Blasko, Shamus O'Neill and Tyler Kruenegel each scored in the opening frame to pace the home team to an early 3-0 lead.
David Coleman would get the Bison within two before the end of the period but Blasko's second of the game for Idaho gave them the three-goal lead back halfway through the second period.
Trailing 4-1 entering the third period, the Bison displayed their "never say die" attitude that they had in the playoffs under head coach Brent Cullaton last season, which they haven't seemed to lose under Paul DePuydt, in his first season at the helm.
2:13 into the period, Greg Sodbinow's goal brought Boulder within two and at the 10:30 mark, Dylan Hassell made it a one-goal game.
With time winding down in regulation, Jake Spinder knotted the game at four, scoring with just 2:16 left in the period to ignite the Boulder bench.
In the extra period, it was veteran forward Ryan Gauthier who got the game winner, beating Blake Mendenhall on a re-direct 1:31 into overtime and completing the comeback for Boulder, eerily similar to the way in which they came back to win in the 2012 playoffs.
Things were just as tight the next night, as Josh Haverstrom scored to give Idaho a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes of play, before Dylan Hassell answered for Boulder in the middle period, knotting the game at one heading into the third.
After Will Neff got called for a roughing penalty with 7:23 left in regulation, the lethal Idaho power play, which had been held in-check for most of the series, went to work with a chance to take the lead.
With 5:14 left on the clock, Stefan Brucato scored from Dominik Gabaj and Cole Larson to give Idaho the 3-2 lead and also keep his streak of having at least one point in every game this season alive.
Boulder poured on the pressure late but goaltender Daniel Selby stood strong, as Idaho escaped with a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
The finale of the series, being played at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, was all Idaho, as Josh Haverstrom notched three assists and Kirk Van Arkel and Dominik Gabaj each grabbed a pair of goals in a 7-1 Jr. Steelheads victory.
New Mexico Renegades (12-18-1, 5th in Mountain Division) @ El Paso Rhinos (24-5-2, 1st in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in El Paso, Texas
Much like what the Boulder Bison have been able to do in McCall, the New Mexico Renegades have proven they can play in an equally tough building, the Sierra Providence Events Center, home of the Mountain Division leading El Paso Rhinos.
New Mexico went into the opening round of the 2012 Thorne Cup Playoffs as heavy underdogs in El Paso and after getting walloped in the opener, they fought back to win game two and nearly take the series.
In the opener of a three-game set on Friday, the Renegades proved it was no fluke and that they can still hang with one of the league's elite.
Much like in Idaho, the opener of the series looked like a runaway early on, as El Paso came out flying and led 2-0 after one on goals by David Nelson and Aaron Rasmussen.
With little going right for New Mexico and being outshot heavily in the second, forward Dakota Beaulieu put the Renegades on his back, scoring twice in the period, each time bringing his team within a goal, as El Paso's Chad Cesarz scored the lone marker for the home team in the period.
Just 5:21 into the third, Beaulieu shocked the crowd again, scoring his third of the game, all three of which came from linemate Nick Stirmel and knotting the game at three.
El Paso came back strong near the end of the period and looked as though they would regain the lead but the newly acquired Zach Woodman, making his first start of the season for the Renegades, stood strong and helped force overtime.
After neither team was able to score in the extra period, the two rivals headed to a five-man shootout.
Out of nine combined shooters, just one was able to convert and that one goal was scored by Beaulieu, who played hero in a career night and lifted the Renegades to a 4-3 victory.
El Paso fired 62 shots on net the next night and Woodman stopped all but one, as Tyler Brady beat him 5:34 into the second period on a goal that would end up being the game-winner, in a 1-0 El Paso victory.
Austin Brihn picked up the shutout in a light night of work for the Rhinos, stopping all 23 shots he faced in the win.
After Nick Stirmel scored to get New Mexico on the board first in the series finale, it was all Rhinos, who fought back to score eight of the next nine, in an 8-2 shellacking.
Two veterans, David Nelson and Mikey Rivera, led the offensive charge with three points each, while John Ludwig, Chad Cesarz and Aaron Rasmussen each notched a pair of points in the win.
Cheyenne Stampede (18-8-1, 2nd in Mountain Division) @ Arizona Redhawks (9-22-6, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Peoria, Arizona
There were no upsets in Peoria, Arizona this weekend, as the Cheyenne Stampede swept the Arizona Redhawks, moving up into second place in the process.
The Stampede got off to a good start against their new Mountain Division rival in the opener, as Ian Johnson, Kevin Rosset and Ryan Demyen each tallied first period goals to pace Cheyenne to a 3-0 lead.
The Redhawks didn't go away easily however, as Oscar Hag Born-Olsson brought the home team within two midway through the second, before Mattias Marten pulled the home team within one just seven seconds into the third.
Cheyenne turned up the heat from that point on however, scoring the next five goals in an 8-2 victory.
Kevin Rosset and Noah Eckebrecht led the offensive charge for the visitors, each tallying a goal and three assists in the win.
The Stampede jumped out to an early lead the next night as well, as Kevin Rosset and Ryan Carroll each scored in the first period to give Cheyenne a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.
TJ West and Patrik Birath each answered with a goal of their own in the second for Arizona, knotting the game at two and giving the home team some life.
It didn't last long however, as just 1:29 after Birath tied the game, Dominick Manochio scored for Cheyenne to take the lead back.
Arizona came out hot to start the third period and tied the game again, on a Mattias Marten goal scored 9:13 into the period.
With time winding down late in regulation, Kevin Rosset's second of the game sealed the deal for Cheyenne in a 4-3 victory.
Arizona took their first lead of the weekend early in the finale, as Oscar Hag Born-Olsson scored the only goal of the opening period to pace the Redhawks to a 1-0 lead.
The first of two Noah Eckebrecht goals tied the game at one early in the second for Cheyenne, before Arizona regained the lead minutes later on a Mattias Marten marker (say that three times fast.)
With just 17 seconds left in the second period, Eckebrecht's second of the game for Cheyenne tied the game at two heading into the third.
While on the power play late in regulation, Heath Lantz beat goaltender Fredrik Johansson with just eight seconds left on the clock to give Cheyenne the win and series sweep.
Ontario Avalanche (17-16-0, 4th in Pacific Division) vs. Long Beach Bombers (13-17-2, 6th in Pacific Division)
Home-and-home series played Friday in Lakewood and Saturday in Ontario, California
The Ontario Avalanche have hit a few bumps in the road early in 2013 but bounced back nicely in an always-tough home-and-home setting with the Long Beach Bombers over the weekend.
Looking to keep pace with the rest of the division, the Avs had to fight off a pesky Long Beach squad three separate times in the opener.
The Bombers grabbed a one-goal lead twice in the opening period, thanks to goals by Eric LaPorte and Tyler Balaguy.
After a scoreless second period, Zechariah Roberts and Jackson Braniff countered, 30 seconds apart in the third for Ontario to give the Avalanche their first lead of the game.
Nearing the middle portion of the period, Alexander Fibig tied the game up for Long Beach but was answered just minutes later by Brian Norman, who scored while playing in his first game with Ontario.
With time dripping down in regulation, Mans Nystrand tied the game again for the Bombers, scoring with just five seconds left on the clock to force overtime.
Just 2:14 into the extra period, Antoine Maillard beat Long Beach goaltender Jiri Sykora to win the game for the Avalanche.
The next night in Ontario, Ryan Espinoza notched a hat-trick, while both Andrew Guzman and Michael Thomas picked up three assists, as the Avalanche won by a score of 7-4.
The Bombers top line was on their game all night, with both Mans Nystrand and Nikita Korotkov collecting four points but Long Beach was doubled up in shots and couldn't convert on any of their three power play chances.
Three Stars of the Week
1. Tom McGuckin (Goaltender, Fresno Monsters)- As a rookie during the 2010-2011 season, goaltender Tom McGuckin broke onto the scene with the Fresno Monsters and after playing well all season, actually took the top spot in Bryce Dale's crease away from veteran Marcus Harbison and went on to guide the team to a Thorne Cup Finals appearance. During the offseason, the native of Clayton, New Jersey was diagnosed with cancer and sat out the first half of the 2012-2013 campaign while he battled the disease. After a successful fight, McGuckin returned to the ice for the Monsters on Saturday night against San Diego. The Western States Hockey League is proud to welcome back our First Star of the Week, Tom McGuckin!
2. Kevin Rosset (Forward, Cheyenne Stampede)- The Cheyenne Stampede picked up a weekend sweep of the Arizona Redhawks and forward Kevin Rosset was on his game in all three wins. The native of Switzerland picked up three goals and six assists over the three games and now leads the team with 44 points on the season.
3. Dakota Beaulieu (Forward, New Mexico Renegades)- The New Mexico Renegades lost two of their three weekend games in El Paso but won game one thanks to a great individual effort by Dakota Beaulieu. The first-year forward scored all three New Mexico goals in regulation and was their only real offense to speak of. To cap things off, he was the only one out of nine shooters to find twine in the shootout, helping his team to a 4-3 win.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Godfrey (FRE), Filip Winkler (FRE), Eric Baldwin (SDG), Sean Buckley (SOR), Alex Burdekin (SLC), Josh Haverstrom (IDA), Dominik Gabaj (IDA), Dylan Hassell (BOU), Zach Woodman (NMR), David Nelson (ELP), Chad Cesarz (ELP), Mattias Marten (ARZ), Ryan Demyen (CHY), Noah Eckebrecht (CHY), Mans Nystrand (LBB), Michael Thomas (ONT), Ryan Espinoza (ONT).
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League.