The unpredictability that has defined the 2012-2013 Western States Hockey League regular season thus far was the theme again this past weekend. 13 different teams were in action and each was looking to head into the Showcase on a high note.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
Dallas Snipers (8-9-3, 3rd in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (4-14-0 5th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Coming into their weekend series with the Dallas Snipers, the Tulsa Jr. Oilers hadn’t tasted victory since a November 2 win over Wichita but Zac Desjardins had his boys ready to break out of the funk and they did so, in a big way.
After flying high to begin the season, the Snipers had also been caught deep in a rut coming into the series, having not picked up a win since beating Wichita 7-3, back on October 28.
With both teams desperate for points, the Snipers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the series opener, behind goals from Trent Williams, Aaron Krominga and Nikita Morozov.
Landon Whomble gave the Jr. Oilers a little bit of life when he put one to pull his team within two heading into the third period, before a Matt Winkle goal 1:09 into the third made a game of it again.
With time winding down in regulation, the Jr. Oilers got their chance to tie the game with an opportunity on the power play and a new face provided a big lift.
Playing in his first game of the season, Elliot Langford, who played for the Tulsa Ramapage a couple of seasons ago, notched his first goal with the Jr. Oilers and knotted the game at three with 5:32 left in regulation.
Tulsa carried the momentum into the overtime period and defenseman Andy Howard picked a good time to notch his first goal of the season, scoring the game-winner 2:18 into the extra frame.
The next night, the two teams met at the BOK Center, home of the Oilers CHL franchise and the Jr. Oilers made the big club proud, with their second complete effort in as many nights.
Howard, suddenly on an offensive tear, scored on the power play to give the home team a 1-0 lead 10:09 into the opening frame.
Just one minute into the second period, it was suddenly 2-0 Tulsa, after Matt Winkle scored to continue his recent hot streak.
Dallas turned up the pressure down the stretch and Michael Kohler’s goal got them within one but that would be as close as they would get, as Chris James shut the door in a 35 save effort and 2-1 Tulsa victory, marking the first back-to-back wins in franchise history.
Leading scorer Bobby Watson had a goal and an assist in the series finale and Tulsa led 2-1 early in the second period but the Snipers swarmed the rest of the game and skated away with a 5-2 win.
Trey McMillen, Jonathan Voyles and Dylan Durham each collected two points for Dallas, helping the Snipers salvage a game from the series.
Tulsa played a solid weekend of hockey and you’ve got to tip your hat to them but the Snipers can’t be happy with the way they played.
Looking to keep pace with the powerful Ice Jets, Dallas was unable to take advantage of a team they probably feel they should have beaten.
After a great start to the season, they’ve hit a rough patch and a big reason for that has been their sudden lack of offense. Over the past nine games, all but one of those being losses, the Snipers have only averaged a little more than two goals per game.
They have the offense to go on a streak but have yet to beat a team with a winning record, which they’ll try to change this Saturday against the rival Ice Jets.
The Tulsa Jr. Oilers have got to be relieved, after finally seeing their efforts rewarded with two solid victories. The four points are huge for this team and they deserve it, after having little to be happy about throughout most of the season.
It wasn’t as much the two wins, as it was the way that it happened. Despite being outshot in every game, the Jr. Oilers kept fighting, helping their goaltender, scoring on the power play and getting the offensive depth that had been non-existent up to that point.
Everyone on the roster played a part in the two victories and if they can find a way to battle like they did against the Snipers, they can make a move for a playoff spot.
Wichita Jr. Thunder (6-18-0, 4th in Midwest Division) @ Texas Jr. Brahmas (9-13-2, 2nd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in North Richland Hills, Texas
While the Jr. Oilers were enjoying their best weekend of the season, the other rookie franchise in the Midwest Division, the Wichita Jr. Thunder, may have found their low-point.
After getting beat-up by the El Paso Rhinos and San Diego Gulls in consecutive weekend sweeps, the Jr. Thunder looked to get back on track against the Texas Jr. Brahmas over the weekend, a team that had also been struggling.
Although the Wichita offense, led by Filip Martinec, had a decent showing, they were once again unable to slow down the opposing offense and dropped three more games by big scores.
Martinec’s goal, scored just 2:18 into the series opener, gave the Jr. Thunder an early 1-0 lead but they couldn’t hold it for long.
Peter Bulling scored his first of five goals on the night just 20 seconds later, beginning an offensive avalanche for Texas, as they rattled off eight straight, en route to an 11-5 victory.
Bulling finished the night with six points, while fellow forward Landyn Howze collected five and defenseman Reilly Moore notched four.
Texas peppered Wichita goaltender Daniel Weiss with 63 shots and went 3-9 on the power play in the win.
The Jr. Brahmas offense did not let up the next night, as they once again put up more than 60 shots and ran away with a 9-3 win. The power play was on point yet again, scoring five times in the victory.
Moore led the way with five points, while captain Will Barber and defenseman Jack Norling each had four on the night.
In the finale, Martinec scored two separate times to give Wichita the lead but Texas scored six straight from the end of the first period to the beginning of the third and skated away with a 10-5 win and series sweep.
17 of the 18 skaters on the roster recorded at least a point in the win, while Bulling matched his five goals on Friday night with five assists on Sunday.
Without forward Andrii Istominov, the Wichita offense did not suffer but their defense continued to give up a ton of goals, having now allowed eight or more in each of their last nine games.
Martinec got his usual amount of points and Jakub Kolarik also had a good showing but the Jr. Thunder took untimely penalties and could not keep the puck out of their own net.
They don’t play again until Wednesday at the Showcase and I’m sure head coach Rob Weingartner will be working extensively with his defense before then. The good news is that even through their recent struggles, they would still make the post-season if it were to begin today.
The Jr. Brahmas got exactly what they needed against a team below them in the standings when they knew they couldn’t afford a slip-up.
Peter Bulling had a career weekend, leading the way with 14 points, while also earning the “Firstar Performance of the Week” for his efforts.
Landyn Howze and Will Barber also stepped up big, while defensemen Reilly Moore and Jack Norling showed their offensive flair.
Their wins, combined with a couple of Dallas Snipers losses, moves the Jr. Brahmas all the way up into second place in the division but they’re still a ways behind the first-place Ice Jets, who they’ll face on Friday night prior to breaking for the Showcase.
San Diego Gulls (14-9-0, 2nd in Pacific Division) @ Arizona Redhawks (6-17-4, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Peoria, Arizona
The streakiest team in the league was at it again this weekend, as the San Diego Gulls traveled to the desert to take on the former division rival Arizona Redhawks for three games.
To recap: the Gulls started the season by losing their first five games, then rebounded to win eight straight, then lost four in-a-row and after a clean sweep of the Arizona Redhawks, have now won four straight.
The Redhawks have continued to battle injuries but seemed to get a big lift last weekend, when their offense awoke to dominate the Tulsa Jr. Oilers in three wins.
It looked as though it would continue in the opener against the Gulls, as the two teams were tied at one after the opening period, with Arizona’s offense carrying play.
Eric Baldwin, Matt Majchrzack and Niko Loesch each scored the final two periods for San Diego, as the Gulls won by a score of 4-1, despite being outshot 30-22.
Trailing 2-0 early in the second period of game two, Oscar Hagborn-Olsson continued his stellar play of late and pulled Arizona within one.
The Redhawks were outshooting the visitors heavily through 40 minutes of play but still trailed by a goal, thanks to the solid goaltending of Brian Walters of San Diego.
The Gulls came out and dominated the final period of regulation however, outscoring Arizona 4-1 and skating away with a 6-2 win.
Forward Drew DePalma notched his first hat-trick of the season in the win, while Loesch added three assists.
In a penalty-filled finale, in which the Redhawks amassed exactly 100 penalty minutes, the Gulls struck for five power play goals and won easily, by a score of 7-0.
Despite being shorthanded nearly the entire game, the Redhawks were still able to fire 34 shots on goaltender Reed Kinsey, who turned all of them away for his second shutout of the season.
Just when it looked like the Redhawks were going to turn a corner, they just couldn’t catch any breaks on Friday and Saturday and then sealed their own fate with penalties on Sunday.
They have the scorers to stick with teams like San Diego but they just can’t seem to put it all together for 60 minutes of hockey.
They’ll have some time to regroup, as they don’t play until Wednesday at the Showcase, where they’ve drawn a favorable schedule to start a second-half surge.
San Diego has put on offensive shows in consecutive weekends and the best part about it, if you’re Gulls head coach Craig Carlyle, is that every line is chipping in.
You know what you’re going to get from Tyler Giovannetti, Justin Lazalde and Zen Hamil but guys like DePalma, Loesch, Tyler Gmerek and others, have all picked up their game and provided some much-needed depth.
Goaltending has never been a question and to no surprise, Kinsey and Walters have been exceptional.
Before heading to Vegas however, the Gulls have a big two-game set with the Valencia Flyers, who are nipping at their heels.
Ogden Mustangs (12-10-5, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (22-1-0, 1st in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in McCall, Idaho
The Idaho Jr. Steelheads continue to look like favorites to three-peat as Thorne Cup Champions but they faced a stiff challenge this weekend, when the new-look Ogden Mustangs rolled into town for three divisional games.
The league’s top team came in with only one loss to their name but it was at home, giving teams at least a little bit of hope when they travel to McCall, a graveyard where hockey teams go to lose.
The Mustangs came in with a chip on their shoulder, trying to prove they can stick with the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season and one of the more talented rosters in the league.
The weekend opened with a scoreless first period, in which both teams felt one another out and took few chances.
The Mustangs came out to begin the second period and scored four straight goals to take a 4-0 lead, stunning the Jr. Steelheads and the capacity crowd.
As they do so well however, the Jr. Steelheads respond well to adversity and seem to take their game to another level when they need to the most.
The team leader in goals, Dominik Gabaj, scored three straight before the end of the period to pull his team within a goal, all three coming on the power play, in a span of just 3:24.
The Gabaj show continued early in the third, as he scored 6:26 into the period, to knot the game at four.
The comeback was complete when veteran defenseman Connor Kingsbury scored with 5:40 left in regulation to give Idaho the lead, before forward Jan Blasko added an empty-netter for good measure.
Goaltender Daniel Selby, who began the season with Ogden before being dropped when they acquired Tyler Fallica, came in to relieve starter Blake Mendenhall and stopped all four shots he faced in the win.
Idaho’s power play scored two more in the middle game of the series and defenseman Jake Webber collected four points, while Stefan Brucato and Gabaj each added three, in a 7-2 Idaho victory.
In the finale, Idaho took a 2-0 first period lead and never looked back in a 5-1 win. Gabaj, Brucato and Ivo Crhak each notched two assists in the win, as Idaho heads into the Showcase on top of the league once again.
The Mustangs had the series opener right in front of them but allowed Idaho’s offense to climb back in, mainly through the use of its vaunted power play.
Jake Laime and company aren’t the only ones to have it happen to them but seeing a 4-0 lead vanish into the thin McCall air won’t make him very happy.
They never seemed to have the same jump about them the rest of the series but were still able to play the Jr. Steelheads very tough and prove they aren’t too far off.
Michael Dery had another strong weekend but he was one of the few offensive bright spots, while Tyler Fallica had little help in net.
They return home on Friday with a game against Salt Lake City, before heading to Sin City, where they’ll surely be one of the teams scouts want to see most.
Idaho just continues to roll and somehow, they find ways to get better.
Stefan Brucato now leads the league with 63 points in 23 games; he had 61 in 44 games last season.
He has recorded at least one point in all 23 games this season and nobody has had an answer for him, especially while playing alongside Dominik Gabaj, who now has 51 points and is second in the league with 24 goals.
Jake Webber leads a stifling defense and is probably the biggest reason for the team’s power play success. He is a great skater, has great vision and seems to always find the open guy.
With no real weaknesses, Idaho now rests before heading to the Showcase, where they’ll face some stiff competition, including the Dallas Ice Jets and Fresno Monsters.
Seattle Totems (8-12-5, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (12-7-0, 3rd in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Medford, Oregon
The fiercest rivalry in the league was renewed over the weekend, as the Seattle Totems continued their rugged first-half road schedule with a two-game series in Medford, against the Southern Oregon Spartans.
Seattle has been coming on as of late but has struggled to beat the Spartans, who seem to have their number so far this season.
Casey Mertens, a Washington native that began the year with the Bay Area Seals, got the scoring started in the opener, handing Seattle the lead just 1:59 in.
Ryan Devine responded just a little while later for Southern Oregon however, as the two teams headed to the locker rooms tied up at one.
Defensemen Tyler Dunn of Southern Oregon and Connor Haney of Seattle exchanged goals in the middle frame and once again, the period ended with the teams all knotted up.
Just 2:48 into the third period, Southern Oregon had taken a two-goal lead thanks to goals from Nick DeSimone and Robby Gervino and seemed well on their way to victory.
The Totems showed their resiliency however and Merten’s second goal of the game pulled them within one, before leading scorer Petr Novak tied the game at four and forced overtime.
After the extra period solved nothing, the two teams headed to a five-man shootout.
With the shootout tied at two after four rounds, Luke Morin converted and goaltender Sean Buckley turned away Mackenzie Crews, as Southern Oregon skated off with a 5-4 win.
The next night was very similar, as the two traded blows, both literally and figuratively, throughout regulation, before heading into overtime tied at three.
Jeffrey Salzbrunn, who scored twice in regulation, converted again in the shootout and it held up as the winner after Buckley turned away Petr Novak’s chance and for the second straight night and third time this season, the Spartans beat the Totems in a shootout.
It was a rough series but Seattle found ways to stick around and looked like a completely different team than they were at the beginning of the season.
They found some scoring depth and the acquisition of Mertens paid immediate dividends.
It’s tough when you lose in a shootout but they were right there and should carry some momentum into the Showcase.
Southern Oregon keeps finding ways to come up with victories and the shootout has been kind to them.
They always seem to play well at home and I’ll tell you, the Medford Madhouse was jumping this weekend.
They have some time to regroup before the Showcase, where they’ll look to avenge a poor performance last season.
Cheyenne Stampede (12-4-1, 3rd in Mountain Division) vs. Boulder Bison (13-5-2, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Home-and-home series, played Friday in Superior, Colorado and Saturday in Cheyenne, Wyoming
There’s nothing like a home-and-home series that pits divisional rivals together to get the blood flowing, as the Cheyenne Stampede and Boulder Bison came together for a couple of great hockey games over the weekend.
Both teams have really been heating up lately and with similar records, style of play and geographic location, the fans certainly got their monies worth.
The Bison played host on Friday night and the visiting Stampede were rude from the outset, as Ryan Carroll scored just 45 seconds into regulation to give Cheyenne a 1-0 lead.
Kevin Rosset’s goal at 11:24 of the period made it 2-0 Stampede, before Jake Spinder answered late in the period for Boulder to pull his team within one.
Ryan Demyen and Russell Armbruster both scored unassisted goals in the second period to open the lead up to 4-1 for the Stampede and that would be all they needed, as neither team scored the rest of the way.
Daniel Cepila took the win in net for the Stampede, as the rookie netminder turned away all but one of the 28 shots he faced, in what was an all-around well played game, with only six minor penalties total and an even amount of shots from both sides.
The next night, the Bison played the rude houseguests and after a scoreless opening period, they poured on the pressure late in a 3-0 win.
Veteran forward Ryan Gauthier scored all three Boulder goals, as the Bison offense carried play and outshot Cheyenne 41-15, while going 2-8 on the power play.
Dax Deadrick, who came on in relief of Colin Champine the night before, picked up his first shutout of the season in net for Boulder.
The series went as expected, as neither team budged and split the two contests.
Cheyenne doesn’t have the top end talent like the Ryan Gauthier’s and Taylor Porrier’s of the world but they are extremely deep and have a defense that is much improved.
They are no longer being overlooked in the Mountain Division and can compete with anyone in the league. They’ll get their shot to prove that, with a Showcase opener against the Dallas Ice Jets.
Boulder bounced back nicely after a lackluster performance on Friday and picked up the offense on Saturday night.
Their top line is really coming alive and outside of just two games this season, Deadrick and Champine have kept them in every game.
The Bison can now rest-up, before beginning the Showcase on 12/18 vs. Fresno.
Pacific Division One-Gamers
Valencia Flyers (11-7-2, T-3rd in division) @ Long Beach Bombers (6-13-0, 5th in division)
Game played Friday in Lakewood, California
The Valencia Flyers had a great opportunity to move up the standings over the weekend, with two key divisional road games.
On Friday night, they traveled south to Lakewood to take on the reeling Long Beach Bombers, who beat the Flyers twice earlier in the season but have hit a rough patch as of late.
The visitors got off to a great start, scoring three times in the opening period and cruising to a 4-0 victory.
Dmitriy Demetev and Eddie Keshishian each picked up a goal and an assist in the win, as the Flyers threw 36 shots at Long Beach goaltender Jiri Sykora, who has been in dire need of some defensive help.
Long Beach now has just one win over their last 14 games, after a promising start to the season.
Valencia Flyers @ Ontario Avalanche (12-9-0, T-3rd in division)
Game played Saturday in Ontario, California
The Flyers finished up their strong weekend with a win in Ontario the following night, which has not been an easy thing to do so far this season.
The top forward line did it all in the win as veterans Austin Ehrlich and Preston Nowak each collected two goals and an assist, while Hunter Jensen added two assists of his own.
Ontario did pick up he pressure late and got within two goals on a Sean Carpenter marker early in the third period but goaltender Jesper Sannerborg stood strong and the Flyers picked up a big win.
The Avs next seven games will prove what kind of team they really are, as they head to Fresno for three against the perfect Monsters this weekend, before facing Boulder, El Paso, Southern Oregon and Idaho at the Western States Shootout.
The Flyers have been up and down but when on top of their game, they’ve got to be considered one of the top teams in the league.
They’ll play two games in San Diego this weekend, before heading to the Showcase to play El Paso, Boulder, Seattle and the Dallas Ice Jets.
Three Stars of the Week
1. Peter Bulling (Forward, Texas Jr. Brahmas)- The Texas Jr. Brahmas had an offensive explosion in three big wins over Wichita over the weekend. Forward Peter Bulling, who had just 12 points in 21 games played prior to the series, picked up an astounding 14 points over the three weekend victories.
Honorable Mentions: Stefan Brucato (IDA), Dominik Gabaj (IDA), Michael Dery (OGD), Landyn Howze (TEX), Jack Norling (TEX), Reilly Moore (TEX), Justin Lazalde (SD), Elliot Langford (TUL), Bobby Watson (TUL), Jeffrey Salzbrunn (SOR), Preston Nowak (VAL), Ryan Gauthier (BOU)
We have another weekend of hockey before the Showcase, so stay tuned for the preview, which comes out on Wednesday.
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League