WSHL (1) squad completes huge comeback to win the "Best of the Rest" title again, while semi-final wins by El Paso and Idaho in championship bracket guarantee a National Champion from the WSHL for second straight year
"Best of the Rest" Championship Game
WSHL (1): 10 (OT)
WSHL (2): 9
The WSHL overage team didn't start well in the "Best of the Rest" Championship game, trailing by as many as five goals a couple of times but they certainly finished strong, scoring the last six goals of the contest, including the game-winner in overtime, in a 10-9 victory.
After beating their elder counterparts handedly during the round robin stage, the under-20 squad jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead in Saturday's contest, as Kyle Rimbach (San Diego Gulls) notched one early in the period, before Jacob Haynes (Fresno Monsters) rang one off the bar and in with .1 seconds left on the clock.
53 seconds into the middle period, Nicholas Short (Long Beach Bombers) extended it to 3-0, before a pair of Valencia Flyers, Niklas Giers and Zach Paxman, scored to make it 5-0.
Ben Henry (Southern Oregon Spartans) and Kyle Blondin (Lake Tahoe Blue) would give the overage team some life and get them back within three, with goals near the middle part of the period but Brett Meyer (Salt Lake City Moose) and Rimbach tallied 36 second apart later in the period to kill any momentum and make it 7-2 after two.
The tide seemed to be turning early in the third period, as Mike Kowicki (Ogden Mustangs) and Joey Sundgren (Missoula Maulers) pulled the overage team back within three again but like clockwork, Paxman notched his second of the game and Rimbach added his third for the under-20 squad to make it a five-goal game again.
From that point on however, the elders had their way with the youngsters, as Sundgren's second of the game and another from Travis Cornwell (Arizona Redhawks) made it 9-6, before Kowicki added his second, Sundgren completed his hat-trick and Henry knotted things up at 16:17 with his second of the day, as well.
Tied-up at nine after 60 minutes of true all-star game hockey, it took just 21 seconds of overtime for the overage team to complete their comeback, as Cheyenne Stampede captain Russell Armbruster ripped one by Mark Becica (Valencia Flyers), to give the WSHL (1) team an improbable 10-9 victory.
Henry finished the game with six points to lead the over-20 squad, while Kowicki and Sundgren each had five. Drake Koegel (Ontario Avalanche) got the start in net and stopped 14 of 19 in nearly 30 minutes of work, while Eric Messer (Colorado Jr. Eagles) got the win after coming on in the second period, stopping 16 of 20 in total.
Haynes, Rimbach and Meyer, all three of which have very bright futures ahead of them, each had five points to lead the under-20 team, while Becica, who came on late in regulation after starter Troy Turpin (Lake Tahoe Blue) got dinged up, took the loss stopping four of the five shots he faced in 4:04 of work.
Congratulations to Chris White, Jeff Carr and the WSHL (1) squad on a great comeback and best of luck to all the players in their future hockey endeavors, while we could very well see the underage team and coaches Craig Carlyle and Marcus Baxter back here next year, after a great performance, as well.
Championship Bracket Semi-Finals
Soo Firehawks: 2
El Paso Rhinos: 12
The first semi-final match-up between the El Paso Rhinos and Soo Firehawks was very similar to their previous clash less than 24 hours earlier, as the Thorne Cup Champions dominated in every facet and cruised to a 12-2 win to move on to the National Championship game on Sunday.
It didn't take the Rhinos long to get going, as Eric Baldwin notched the first goal of the game just 23 seconds after the drop of the puck, before Jeremy Rezaeepour, Nick Plesa and Chad Cesarz extended the El Paso lead to 4-0 before the seven minute mark.
One of the Firehawks' most consistent threats during the event, Andrew Holder, got the Soo on the board 17 seconds after Cesarz' marker but El Paso came back with goals from Austin Hoff and Tom Bartel to take a 6-1 lead into the first intermission.
The roll continued into the middle period, as Jack Strusz scored just 1:06 in, Bartel added his second at 4:38 and two of the most offensive defensemen in the WSHL, Kalvis Ozols and Chris Wilhite, really put things out of reach, pushing the El Paso lead to 10-1 with about five minutes left before the buzzer.
Holder would notch his second of the day before the end of the frame but with the game well in-hand, each team took it easy in the third. The Soo bench remained light and had as much fun as they could and El Paso scored two more, with Plesa and Hoff each adding their second, in the 10-goal win.
Six Rhinos finished the game with three points, including Andrew Bradford, Kendal Craig and Drew DePalma, all of whom had three assists, while three others had two points.
Adam Vay stopped 21 of the 23 shots he faced in a pretty light afternoon of work in the El Paso crease.
Holder was the only Soo player to record multiple points, while Anthony Benvenuti, who had a stellar tournament for the Firehawks, stopped 11 of 16 and took the loss, while Brandon Hansen finished things up, stopping 18 of 25 in a no-decision.
The Rhinos will now face the rival Idaho Jr. Steelheads for the third time in a week and second championship affair in the same amount of time, as they clash in the all-WSHL United Hockey Union National Championship game Sunday at 11: 15 am PST.
Idaho Jr. Steelheads: 6
AHI Fighting Spirit: 1
In another re-match of a game played less than 24 hours prior, the Idaho Jr. Steelheads avenged a 6-5 overtime loss at the hands of the AHI Fighting Spirit, cruising to a 6-1 win behind crisp systems play and ensuring a WSHL team will be United Hockey Union National Champions for the second straight year.
The defending UHU champs began much better than they did the night before, when a goal 12 seconds into regulation got them behind the eight-ball early, as they took a 2-0 first period, tacked on to it with two more in the second and the third in a decisive win.
Power play goals from Hunter Lester and Dak Dice gave the Jr. Steelheads a 2-0 lead after twenty minutes of play, which could have been a lot greater if not for sensational play of AHI goaltender Nate DelGiudice, who faced 18 total shots in the opening frame.
With the first 15 minutes of the second period played pretty evenly, Idaho broke through for two big goals before the intermission, with Bryan Hodges pushing the lead to 3-0 at 15:24 and Dice notching his second of the game at 16:44, which seemed to be the back breaker, coming while short handed.
Kyle Williams made it 5-0 at 12:55 of the third and 1:17 later, it was pretty much over, as Victor Carlsson added another.
Alex Peddle would sneak one through Sean Healy late in regulation but the Fighting Spirit could do no more, losing by five.
Six Idaho players recorded two points in the win, including three defensemen, while Healy stopped all but one of the 23 shots he faced in another stellar performance in net.
Idaho was able to keep the Fighting Spirit's big guns quiet, including Ryan Chauvin, who was the best player in the tournament, in my humble opinion. He did however more than hold his own in a spirited bout with Idaho agitator Randy Patzner late in the third period.
DelGiudice took the loss in net, stopping 33 of the 39 shots he faced, many of which were point-blank chances.
Idaho will now play face a WSHL squad for the UHU title for the second straight year, as they meet the El Paso Rhinos at 11:15 am PST, the same team that beat them 7-3 in the Thorne Cup Championship game two weeks ago.
Brent Maranto is the WSHL Director of Communications