As always, with the holiday season fast approaching, the Western States Hockey League really begins to kick into gear in early November. This past weekend, many teams grasped the opportunity to pick up some key victories, as they prepare for tight division races all across the league.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
Wichita Jr. Thunder (6-9-0, 3rd in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (2-10-0, 5th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The two first-year teams in the Midwest Division completed their season series against one another over the weekend in Tulsa and regardless of who won, they both showed they have come along way in just a few weeks of play.
The Jr. Oilers were able to pull out a win in game one on Friday, despite getting burnt numerous times by the Jr. Thunder’s skilled import players.
Filip Martinec, who is now the leading scorer in the entire league, notched a hat-trick for Wichita and had them leading 4-3 after two periods of play but Matt Winkle scored two third period goals to give the Jr. Oilers the 5-4 victory.
Martinec continued his hot play the next evening, notching six points, while fellow Czech-native Jan Ruzicka scored three times, as the Jr. Thunder were dominant offensively in a 7-1 win.
In the finale, it was once again the Filip Martinec show, as he added another three points to his league-leading total and led the Jr. Thunder to a 5-3 win.
The difference in the series, much like the last time these two teams met, was the high-powered offense of Wichita, which Tulsa just didn’t have an answer for yet again.
Give the Jr. Oilers credit however, as they came to play each night and their defense looked much improved but they just didn’t have the firepower to stick around.
The Jr. Thunder have now moved up into third place in the Midwest Division and if they can keep getting production from Martinec and Andrii Istominov and find a way to mix in some depth, they will continue to surprise people.
Bay Area Seals (3-14-1, 6th in Pacific Division) @ Fresno Monsters (12-0-0, 1st in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Fresno, California
Over a quarter of the way through their fourth season of play and the Fresno Monsters are perfect once again.
This past weekend, the victim was the first-year Bay Area Seals, who duked it out over three losses to the Monsters in Daly City back in September and were looking for revenge over the weekend.
In a far more subdued series, the Seals were able to pick up a point, losing in overtime on Sunday but other than that, they were flat out dominated.
Filip Winkler picked up five points in game one, as Fresno scored six times in the second period alone, on their way to a 9-5 victory.
The middle game of the series was the most competitive overall, as Bay Area came close in shots and scoring chances but once again, Fresno was just too much, winning 5-3.
The Seals actually led 2-0 in that game, on goals from DJ Mikes and Wes Starr but Fresno poured it on late, led by three points from Austin Browning.
In the finale, the Seals were able to force overtime, despite being outshot heavily throughout the contest.
Just 15 seconds into the extra period however, veteran defenseman Gunnar Dircks scored unassisted for the Monsters, lifting them to a 4-3 victory.
The Seals have to be happy for two reasons; 1. They were able to salvage a point on the weekend and played far better than they did a few weeks back and 2. They don’t have to see the Monsters again this regular season.
DJ Mikes continues to have a solid first-year with the squad and Wes Starr is emerging as a threat as well but with so many injuries and a few lingering suspensions, the Seals just don’t have the skill to upend teams like Fresno. They’ll get a few players back shortly and will be much better because of it.
The Monsters continue to do what they have always done and have only gotten stronger as the season has carried on.
They’ve picked up a few more skilled guys, including Filip Winkler and their goaltending is really starting to come along, with another new addition, Corey Foster, between the pipes.
Arizona Redhawks (1-12-2, 6th in Mountain Division) @ Dallas Ice Jets (12-0-0, 1st in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Grapevine, Texas
Much like the Fresno Monsters, the Dallas Ice Jets continue to roll and look like a favorite to win the Thorne Cup.
This weekend, they welcomed in the Arizona Redhawks for what many thought would be a competitive inter-division matchup.
In the Redhawks defense, they have numerous injuries they’re dealing with but their early season struggles continued, as they seem like they just aren’t able to pull all areas of their game together on a given night.
Arizona was able to hold their own in the opening period of the weekend but the Ice Jets were just to deep, wining game one by a score of 7-3.
Richard Bohan, who is one of the most underrated players in the league, notched two goals for the Ice Jets as they peppered Arizona goaltender Nick Carroll with 42 shots in the win.
Mattias Marten did score twice for the Redhawks in the opener, which is a promising sign for a team in need of scoring depth.
Game two was an absolute blowout, as the Ice jets dominated in all facets, including special teams, where their league-leading power play converted on 4 of 12 chances in a 12-0 victory.
Forward Christian Elsborg, who has been up and down between the WSHL and NAHL this season, led the way with four points on the night.
Much like game one, the Redhawks were able to stick around in the finale of the three-game set and trailed by just a goal late in the second period. Dallas wound up scoring the last five goals of the game however, in an 8-2 win and series sweep.
As it seems to go every game with the Ice Jets, a different player led the charge once more, as it was Brandon Unser notching four points to lead the team on Sunday.
Kyle Pavlack, who recently returned from injury, picked up a goal and an assist for the Redhawks, who have not won a game since September 29, their second game of the season.
Arizona is not nearly as bad as their record indicates and have gone through some serious turnover but the Mountain Division will not wait for them to pick up their play and they’ll have to start getting all areas of their game working, especially goaltending.
The Ice Jets are at cruising altitude and are already running away with the Midwest Division.
They are the deepest team in the league and they play a style that wins hockey games in crunch time, as they don’t rely on any single individual, yet excel in every area of the game.
Ogden Mustangs (9-6-2, 2nd in Mountain Division) @ Boulder Bison (7-4-1, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Superior, Colorado
One of the closest series of the weekend came in an inter-division matchup between the Boulder Bison and Ogden Mustangs, who were division foes last season.
The Mustangs got off to a slow start to their second season in the league but have really come on as of late and showed it again this weekend, taking two of three from the Bison on the road.
The Mustangs scored three times in the first period and three times in the third (two of which were empty-netters), as they took game one by a score of 6-3.
Tyler Fallica was huge for the visitors, as the Ogden netminder stopped 54 of the 57 Bison shots he faced, while forward Dusty Watt notched a hat-trick to lead the offensive charge.
Matt Hefter scored the first three goals of the game for Boulder, pacing his team to a 3-0 lead just 9:08 into regulation of game two.
Ogden would fight back however and Anthony Arbulu’s goal with 2:48 left in regulation forced overtime and eventually a shootout, as neither team scored during the extra period.
Once again, Fallica was terrific for Ogden, stopping all four Boulder shooters he faced and Christian Kraus and Kody Rodriguez converted for the Mustangs, as they won game two by a score of 5-4.
In the finale, Boulder’s offense scored five times in the middle period, en route to a 6-1 victory, salvaging three out of a possible six points on the weekend. Veteran forward Ryan Gauthier picked up four points in the victory.
In what was a heck of a series, the Boulder Bison probably feel as though they should have won at least two of the games, possibly even three.
They were the better team for most of the weekend but Ogden is quickly finding that clutch quality that few teams possess and were able to pull out games one and two.
Tyler Fallica was fantastic for Ogden, who have now moved all the way up into second in the Northwest Division and should provide a good challenge for the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
Cheyenne Stampede (5-0-1, 5th in Mountain Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (4-4-1, 5th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
The Cheyenne Stampede are very similar to the Ogden Mustangs, as after a tough year one in the league, they’ve completely reloaded over the off-season and look like a true contender.
This past weekend, they headed south for three games against another upstart squad, the New Mexico Renegades.
Game one was a great hard-hitting affair that encompasses the kind of competition the Mountain Division has from top to bottom.
With the Renegades leading 2-0 early in the second period, Kevin Rosset scored twice before the end of regulation for the Stampede, as the two teams went to overtime tied at two.
After nothing was solved in overtime, Russell Armbruster’s goal in the fifth round of the shootout gave Cheyenne the 3-2 victory.
Dakota Beaulieu’s goal, scored just 49 second into the opening period of game two gave the Renegades the early lead but the Stampede turned up the heat from that point on, rolling to a 9-3 victory.
The Stampede showed their depth in the middle game of the series, as Noah Eckebrecht, Dorran Masters and Trevor Zakrajsek each notched two points in the victory.
In the finale, Daniel Cepilla stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced and the Stampede got production out of all four lines, in a 4-1 victory and series sweep.
The Renegades top forwards struggled to find space on the weekend, as Cheyenne made sure to finish every check and clogged up the neutral zone well.
They’re a much improved hockey team however and when they get hot, which surely they will, the Renegades will be right up there in the playoff hunt.
Cheyenne is fast and physical and showed it again this weekend. With Marty Quarters at the helm, they are a team to look out for, as unlike last season, they have great depth, come to play every night and their goaltending has been solid.
Seattle Totems (4-8-1, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Salt Lake City Moose (3-6-1, 5th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Salt Lake City, Utah
It may not have shown before this weekend but the Salt Lake City Moose have improved drastically in their second season in the league and a clean sweep of the Seattle Totems made it completely evident.
Veteran goaltender Alex Burdekin stopped 25 of the 26 Seattle shots he faced in the opening game, which was enough to make the Moose’s two second period goals hold up, as Salt Lake City won by a score of 2-1 in the opener.
Burdekin was fantastic as well in game two, as Martin Tolkner and Brian Giorgi’s first period goals were once again held up by his strong play in net, where he turned away 38 of the 39 shots he faced.
With the first series victory in franchise history already wrapped up, the Moose got two goals from Patrick Dwyer and finished the sweep with a 4-3 victory.
The sweep of the perennial power Totems is huge for the Moose’s psyche, as they look to get some momentum going for the first time in franchise history.
After sweeping Ontario last weekend, Seattle took a step back against the Moose and weren’t able to put a full 60 minutes of hockey together all weekend.
Their goaltending is solid, they seem to have the skill and physicality but they lack an identity, which they’ll need to mold soon.
El Paso Rhinos (10-2-0, 1st in Mountain Division) @ Phoenix Knights (6-8-1, 3rd in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Chandler, Arizona
In a series that featured the Mountain Division’s top two teams, the El Paso Rhinos were downright dominant, blowing the Knights out on their home ice and winning all three games with relative ease.
The Rhinos outshot the host Knights 63-24 in the opener and ran away with a 13-0 victory, behind a five-point night from forward Jan Dam and a shutout in net from Austin Brihn, who had most of the night off.
Phoenix rallied to put together a much better effort in game two but Tommy Malkmus and Mikey Rivera each scored late in the third period to give the Rhinos a 5-2 victory.
The finale was much like the opener, as it seemed the Knights didn’t even show up, as the Rhinos won by a score of 11-2.
David Morong led the way with four points, as the Rhinos swept an Arizona-based team for the second consecutive weekend in a dominant fashion.
Next up for the Rhinos is a trip to McCall, Idaho to take on the undefeated Jr. Steelheads in what should be a great weekend of hockey.
I don’t know what has happened to the Knights but after getting off to a great start, they look much like they did all of last season.
Much like Seattle, they have the skill, speed and size but for whatever reason, they haven’t shown up to play the last couple of weekends.
Pacific Division Single Games
Long Beach Bombers (4-5-0, 5th in division) @ San Diego Gulls (8-5-0, 3rd in division)
Game played Friday in Escondido, California
After a great start to the season, the Long Beach Bombers have been in a downward spiral and it continued at home on Friday, with an 8-3 loss to the San Diego Gulls.
A lot of it has to do with the loss of leading-scorer Jakub Sramek, who returned home to play professionally in the Czech Republic but the Bombers still have a bevvy of skill, especially at the forward position.
The red-hot Gulls led the entire night, as their top line of Justin Lazalde, Tyler Giovannetti and Zen Hamil combined for nine points, in what was their seventh straight victory.
Long Beach goaltender Jiri Sykora was once again hung out to dry an had little help defensively, as the Bombers gave up an abundance of “Grade A” scoring chances.
Valencia Flyers (8-4-1, 2nd in division) @ Ontario Avalanche (8-8-0, 4th in division)
Game played Friday in Ontario, California
The Valencia Flyers traveled south to Ontario on Friday to take on the first-year Avalanche, who got off to a hot start but much like the Bombers, have struggled as of late.
In a game that didn’t feature a ton of scoring chances, Ludovic Beaupre scored twice and goaltender Stephen Palmer stopped all 15 shots he faced, as the Flyers cruised to a 4-0 victory.
Valencia Flyers @ San Diego Gulls
Game played Saturday in Escondido, California
The Flyers traveled further south on Saturday, as they went to take on the Gulls in San Diego for the first time since bouncing them from the playoffs last season.
The Gulls kept up their torrid pace however, winning their eighth straight, in a 6-4 victory.
Kevin Antipov’s two third period goals tied the game halfway through the third period for Valencia but Dennis Anderson answered with two of his own, as the Gulls moved their record to 8-5-0, which is fascinating, considering they opened the season with five straight losses.
Long Beach Bombers @ Ontario Avalanche
Game played Saturday in Ontario, California
The Bombers and Avalanche met on Saturday as well, as two teams looking to get back on the winning track went head to head.
The Bombers put together a much better effort, led by two points form veteran forward Eric LaPorte but the Ontario offense was just too deep, as the Avs won, 4-3.
Tyler Sybil and Michael Thomas each collected a pair of points for the Avalanche, who handed the Bombers their fourth straight loss.
Three-Stars of the Week
We keep rumbling along next weekend, with a full slate of games, including what could be one of the best matchups of the year, as the El Paso Rhinos invade McCall, Idaho to face the Jr. Steelheads. All of the action can be seen live at fasthockey.com
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League