The 3rd place team in the South Division, the El Paso Rhinos, traveled East to the Children’s Health StarCenter to take on the Mid-Cities Jr. Stars this past weekend. The Jr. Stars played a more consistent and confident game since coming off the Christmas break but haven’t had the results to reflect their recent game on the ice.
When asked about what the coaching staff wanted to accomplish/establish within these last remaining games in the season, Assistant Coach Drew Lind said, “we would like to come up with some constancy and try to get one, two, three wins together, consecutively over the later part of the season.” Lind also emphasized that compete level and intensity be a focal point to end the season. While the Jr. Stars did not record a win, their pace of play was consistent throughout the weekend, and the team showed that tenacity and intensity the coaching staff wanted to see.
Colton Sebastian opened the scoring on the weekend series, with Kyle Russell netting an Allen’sAllen’s Construction Power Play Goal on a hooking penalty by El Paso forward Matthew Gross late in the first period for Mid-Cities to take a 2-0 lead into the dressing room.
After dominating the opening frame, El Paso found their legs and scored four goals in the second. Sandwiched between those Rhino goals was Jr. Stars forward Diego Pitzer collecting his first NA3HL goal after two seasons of hard work, sweat, and tears. The horn signaled the end of the second period, with the Rhinos on top of the Jr. Stars 4-3.
In the third period, Johnathan Gunn captured his first NA3HL goal to extend the Rhino lead at the 1:58 mark. Dylan Thompson brought the lead to three goals until Kyle Russell scored his second of the night. Rhino’s Jack Olson notched his 7th of the season to regain the three-goal lead, but Braden Balgemann would achieve the last goal of the game to have a 7-5 final.
In his second appearance for the Jr. Stars, Arron Palos recorded the loss, stopping 45 of 52 shots, while Camden Pendleton took his 11th win, stopping 27 of 32.
El Paso performed in the first period with their special team units, as two goals were scored on the power play and one short-handed. Diego Pitzer grabbed his second goal on the season while Blake Lind scored his own power-play goal to end the first period 3-2.
A pair of goals by both sides in the second kept the score at a one-goal deficit, with both Matthew Barnes and Blake Lind finding themselves in the goal column once more.
Michael Kennedy evened the score 4-4 early in the third before the NA3HL’s league-leading power play struck again by Rhino forward Matthew Gross. Riley Hunt-Bahn would ice the game with 28 seconds left with an empty netter.
El Paso goaltender Peyton Brendel grabbed the win Saturday night, while Quillon Bowman grabbed the loss in the middle game of three on the weekend.
While the Jr. Stars showed they could skate with the Rhinos in the two games prior, Sunday would be a dominating performance for the black and orange from El Paso as they took the game with a score of 10-3.
The first period was the opposite of Friday night, with El Paso holding a 2-0 lead after the buzzer. Jaxon Penner and Riely Hunt-Bahn led the charge early.
Sixteen individual penalties were called in the middle frame, with ejections for Preston Jones and Jack Olson for fighting and Colton Sebastian collecting a game misconduct, which meant that the benches for both sides were shortened.
Easton Walters got the monkey off his back as he scored his 5th on the 2021-2022 campaign to cut the goal deficit in half, but it was four goals in a row by the Rhinos that pushed the score to 6-1 before Ilnur Madiarov put himself on the score sheet to have the horn sound on a goal total of 6-2.
Caden Butler’s natural hat trick in the third, along with Dani Cuellar’s goal, almost put a bow on the game. Still, the Jr. Stars kept fighting until the final minute as a shot from the blueline by Dakota Sullivan was deflected by Dante Petrini and put in the back of the net, resulting in a final score of 10-3.
Despite being pulled in the second period for Luc Haggitt, Adler Hoagland recorded the loss between the pipes for the Jr. Stars while Camden Pendleton grabbed his second win of the weekend for the El Paso Rhinos.
The Jr. Stars are 9-23-0-0 for 18 points and sit 7th in the South Division Standings after this weekend’s slate of games. With only 14 games remaining on the season, the last scheduled home series is this upcoming weekend, January 28th-30th, at the Children’s Health StarCenter in Euless, Texas, against the Oklahoma City Ice Hawks. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday, with 5:30 starts for Saturday and Sunday.