A weekend across the Western States Hockey League was filled with action and a few teams really helping their playoff position.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
San Diego Gulls (11-9-0, 3rd in Pacific Division) @ Wichita Jr. Thunder (6-15-0 4th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Wichita, Kansas
Needing to keep pace with the division-leading Fresno Monsters, the San Diego Gulls got their first look at the Wichita Jr. Thunder and much like the El Paso Rhinos did the weekend before, San Diego feasted on the Wichita defense.
Just one week after allowing a combined 44 goals in three losses to El Paso, the Jr. Thunder gave up eight goals a game in all three losses to San Diego.
Justin Lazalde notched four points in the opener, as San Diego scored five times in the first period alone, en route to a 8-1 smack down.
Leading scorer Filip Martinec scored the lone goal for the Jr. Thunder, who put up 30 shots on goal but weren’t able to slow the San Diego attack much, if any.
The Gulls notched 57 shots the next night, as Eric Baldwin notched his first-career hat trick and goaltender Brian Walters turned aside all 23 shots he faced, in a 8-0 shutout.
2:55 into the final game of the series, Jan Ruzicka’s goal gave Wichita their first and only lead of the weekend but it didn’t last long, as the Gulls rattled off the next eight goals in a 8-1 win and series sweep.
San Diego peppered Dakota McDonald with 67 shots, giving the rookie goaltender little help, while Colin Mann got the win at the other end for San Diego, in his first start of the season.
Wichita has proven they are a better team than Tulsa, the only team that trails them in the Midwest Division but have struggled against just about everyone else.
Even their high scoring imports, led by Andrii Istominov and the aforementioned Martinec, couldn’t help them in a series in which they were never really in.
They are back on the road this weekend with three against the Texas Jr. Brahmas and if they can find a way to give their goaltenders some help, they could grind out a couple of wins.
San Diego had everything working for them in the series, as nearly every player got in on the action, including all three rostered goaltenders.
They were the better team the entire series and took advantage of the opportunities they had, which is a sign of a well-coached team.
Their top line continues to give opposing teams fits and if they can find depth like they did this weekend, they can compete with some of the top teams in the league.
Next up for the Gulls is a three-game set in Arizona this weekend against the Redhawks, a winnable series if they continue play their game.
Boulder Bison (12-4-2, 2nd in Mountain Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (9-11-1, 4th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
What was thought to be one of the closer series of the weekend proved to be a runaway in New Mexico, as the Boulder Bison cruised to a sweep over the host Renegades.
New Mexico has looked much improved so far this season but in the three losses to the second place Bison, they were just plain outgunned.
Veteran forward Ryan Gauthier collected four assists in the series opener, as the Bison scored four times in the second period and pulled away in a 6-2 victory.
Tyler George was pelted with 59 Boulder shots and took the loss in net for New Mexico, while Collin Champine continued his steady play for the Bison, taking the win while stopping 32 of the 34 shots he faced.
The next game was much tighter and Kenny Orlando’s goal with 4:43 left in the second period tied the game at three for the Renegades.
Boulder answered in the third with power play goals from Gauthier and Dylan Hassell in a 5-3 win, with all five of their goals coming while on the man advantage.
After Dakota Beaulieu gave New Mexico a 1-0 lead early in the series finale, the Bison picked up their play and scored eight of the next nine goals in an 8-2 win and series sweep.
In his first weekend back with the team, veteran forward Taylor Porrier notched four assists while playing with Gauthier, who also picked up four points on the day. The two combined with Chris Guidotti last season to form the league’s highest scoring line and seem well on their way to doing it again, without the help of Guidotti.
The Renegades will head into the Showcase with losses in their last six games but are a well coached bunch that battle until the finish but have struggled to get everyone on the same page each night.
They have the ability to score a ton of goals, led by top returner Kenny Orlando but their defense has been a work in progress and has hampered them a bit so far this season.
Cliff Cook and John McCreary will get some issues ironed out before they take the ice in Vegas, where they always seem to play their best hockey.
The Bison put on an offensive show over the weekend and you have to think at least a bit of that stems from getting Porrier back.
He and Gauthier have great chemistry and are lethal when on the ice together. Even if they aren’t scoring, they draw the opposition’s focus and can open up the ice for guys like Matt Hefter, who also had a great weekend.
With their offense now clicking and goaltending as strong as ever, the Bison head into a home-and-home series with Cheyenne with tons of momentum and looking to catch El Paso in the Mountain Division.
Tulsa Jr. Oilers (2-13-0, 5th in Midwest Division) @ Arizona Redhawks (6-14-4, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Peoria, Arizona
The Arizona Redhawks have been in dire need of some offensive depth as of late and finally got it, in the form of a couple of Swedes.
The Redhawks came into the weekend with only two wins in their last 20 games but behind an offensive spark, led by forward Mattias Marten, Arizona cruised to three home victories.
The home team wasted no time jumping on the Jr. Oilers in the opener, as the Redhawks scored five first period goals in a 10-0 runaway.
Mitch Cobby led the offensive charge with five points, while goaltender Colton Pankiw continued his hot play with a 23-save shutout, the first in Redhawks history.
The next night was more of the same, as three Swedes led the Redhawks to an 8-1 win. Marten and Oscar Hag Born-Olsson combined for seven points, while Fredrik Johansson stopped 16 of the 17 shots he faced in net.
Matt Winkle scored two goals for Tulsa in the finale but had no help, as Arizona cruised to a 10-3 victory and series sweep.
Patrik Birath, yet another Swedish import, led the way with four points, while Marten collected his first hat-trick of the season.
Tulsa was unable to get anything going in the series and failed to make up any ground on Wichita, who also had a tough weekend.
They often fall behind trail by two or three goals before they can blink and with little to no offensive firepower, it’s hard to fight back.
They are much more disciplined than a few of the other first-year teams however, having only been shorthanded 71 times all season, despite getting blown out of a few games.
They’ll have their chance to pick up points at the Showcase and turn things around in the second half.
The sweep is huge for Arizona, who gained ground on the fourth-place Renegades in the Mountain Division standings.
They’ve needed someone other than TJ West to step up and score goals for them and Mattias Marten did just that, along with a bevvy of other players that also had solid weekends.
Goaltending has improved dramatically with Pankiw in between the pipes and with more confidence moving forward, the Redhawks will be right in the thick of things before they know it.
Seattle Totems (8-12-3, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Long Beach Bombers (6-12-0, 5th in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Lakewood, California
The Seattle Totems haven’t had a great start to the season but in the do lead the league in road games played and if they can continue to keep their heads above water, their schedule calms down in the second half of the season.
This past weekend they made the long trek to Long Beach and took two of three from the Bombers, as their offense awoke.
Veterans led the way in the opener for the road warriors, as Mackenzie Crews and Connor Haney each collected three points in a 5-3 Seattle victory.
Haney scored twice the next night and the Totems looked as though they’d cruise to the finish line with a 4-1 lead early in the third period.
Long Beach turned up the pressure however and got within one, on goals from Mans Nystrand and Guy LaPorte, before Bryce Fink slammed the door shut for Seattle, as the veteran netminder stopped 36 of the 39 shots he faced in a 4-3 Totems win.
Seattle looked as though they were well on their way to a sweep in the finale, when they held a 2-1 lead heading into the third period of play.
The Totems ran into a bit of penalty trouble however and the Bombers made them pay with a five-goal third period and 6-2 win, avoiding the sweep behind a hat-trick from forward Nikita Korotkov.
Long Beach did most of their damage on the power play, where they converted on three of their eight opportunities.
The series was evenly matched but the Bombers just couldn’t seem to get the big goal past Fink in the first two games.
Korotkov had a strong weekend, as did defenseman Guy LaPorte but Long Beach continued to provide little help for goaltender Jiri Sykora.
They are a good hockey team with some talented players but the last few weeks have seen them continue to descend the Pacific Division standings.
In direct contrast, the Totems are on the rise and after another strong weekend of hockey, they’ll be back on the road this weekend with two games in Medford against the hated Spartans.
Texas Jr. Brahmas (6-13-2, 3rd in Midwest Division) @ Dallas Ice Jets (19-1-0, 1st in Midwest Division)
Two-game series in Grapevine, Texas
The Texas Jr. Brahmas have been playing better hockey as of late but were thoroughly outplayed in a quick two-game series with the division-leading Ice Jets.
The high-flying Jets scored two goals in each period of the opener on Friday night and cruised to a 6-1 victory.
Five different Ice Jets recorded two points in the win, including captain Richard Bohan, who now leads the team with 47 points on the season.
Tied 1-1 after the opening 20 minutes of play in game two, Dallas turned up the heat over the final two periods and outscored the visiting Jr. Brahmas 9-1, as they ran away with a 10-2 victory.
Only two of the 18 Ice Jets skaters failed to record a point in the win, as Connor Enciso and Joncarlo Westerlund each notched a hat-trick in the win.
The Jr. Brahmas just did not have the offense to keep up with the Ice Jets in the series and continue to search for answers to help solve their up and down season.
They played with better intensity and were in both games early on but Dallas was just too much as the game went along.
The Ice Jets continue to dominate their division and unless they have an epic meltdown, should have the top spot locked up by January.
They are still rolling all four lines, everyone is scoring, with the the return of Joe Barnett their defense continues to get stronger and goaltending has never been an issue.
Plain and simple, they are a premier team in the league and the way they play in Vegas will prove just how good they are.
Salt Lake City Moose (5-8-1, 5th in Northwest Division) @ Ogden Mustangs (12-7-5, 2nd in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Ogden, Utah
In year one, the battle of Utah was completely one-sided but with both the Ogden Mustangs and Salt Lake City Moose much improved this season, the rivalry has been taken to a new level.
In the short two-game series, the Mustangs dominated game one and showed their offensive depth, as four different forwards scored a goal in a 4-0 win.
Goaltender Tyler Fallica stopped all 20 shots he faced in the win, in one of the Ogden’s stronger defensive showings of the year.
The next night was much closer, with the Moose jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period.
Ogden fought back and actually took a 5-4 lead on a Christian Kraus goal, scored with 7:42 left in regulation.
With time ticking down, Patrick Dwyer knotted the game at five for Salt Lake City, scoring with just 37 seconds left on the clock.
After a scoreless overtime period, the two teams headed to a shootout and it was the Moose that prevailed, thanks to goals from Zack Jewby and Dwyer.
Talon Miller was great for Salt Lake in the win, as the rookie goaltender stopped 35 of the 40 shots he faced and all five Ogden shootout chances.
The Moose continue to prove they can play with just about anyone in the league, a huge change from last season.
They don’t have a ton of offensive weapons but seemed to have a breakthrough in Saturday’s win.
They’ve now won more games than they did all of last season and are only getting stronger.
Despite the shootout loss on Saturday, Ogden picked up three out of a possible four points and continues to find ways to win.
They are very deep at the forward position and their defense is coming along, backed by Fallica in net. Christian Kraus leads them in points with 22 on the season and it’s amazing he doesn’t have double that.
This is now a real rivalry, with two fast and physical hockey teams that both make the Northwest Division that much stronger.
Ogden travels to Idaho this weekend for a true measuring stick series, while Salt Lake will enjoy a weekend off.
Three-Stars of the Week
More games are coming your way this weekend, so be sure to head over to fasthockey.com and get your hockey fix!
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League