Defenseman Jack Strusz scored the game-winner less than midway through the final period and the El Paso Rhinos survived three bad penalties to hold off the Valencia Flyers, 3-2, at the Western States Hockey League Showcase in Las Vegas, NV.
The win is the Rhinos' second straight at the WSHL Showcase, an event at which El Paso has performed erratically in the past. But after watching his team take three bad penalties late in the game, head coach Cory Herman still believes there is work to be done.
"We still aren't playing our best," said Herman. "We are taking selfish penalties. The guys did play well at the end of the game and killed off three big penalties, but we should never have put ourselves in that position to begin with."
Interestingly, while the Rhinos' high-flying forwards didn't get untracked against Valencia, El Paso's grit has never been called into question.
The Rhinos got scoring from two defensemen in Strusz and 6-7 Czech Republic d-man Jan Dam. Dam opened the scoring and fourth-line forward Luke Dotto potted the middle goal.
But the Strusz's status as the game-winning goal-scorer was in doubt after Andrew Bradford was called for a cross-check at 18:41, then less than two minutes after getting out of the penalty box, was whistled for interference.
Austin Hoff collected a slashing penalty exactly one-minute later and the Flyers had a two-man advantage with 88 seconds left in the game.
El Paso hung on for the win, as goaltender Terry Hughes stopped 31 of 33 Valencia shots.
The Rhinos (19-3-1, 39 points) have now won nine straight games, tied for the second-best active win streak in the WSHL. The Flyers fall to 13-8-2 (28 points).
El Paso will face the Ontario Avalance tomorrow after at 5 p.m. MST before finishing with a Showcase Showdown against the team with one of the best record in the league, the Fresno Monsters, Friday afternoon at 3:45 p.m.
For links to follow all the Rhinos' action at the league showcase, go to www.elpasorhinos.com , or download the El Paso Rhinos app for your Android or Apple smartphone.