Brandon Edson, Austin Hoff and Tommy Malkmus all had hat tricks and the El Paso Rhinos ran roughshod over the New Mexico Renegades in the last game of the regular season, 15-4.
The game started well enough for the hosts as Rhinos defenseman Matej Steigauf slid into New Mexico's Tim Talty just 1:04 into the game.
Referee Jeremy Boucher called immediately for the penalty shot, and Talty didn't disappoint, deking El Paso goalie Kiefer Giroux to the ice before pulling the puck from backhand to forehand for the goal.
Ian Reffert made it 2-0, Renegades, on the power play, tipping in the goal at 10:42 of the first. It was New Mexico's first lead in the series, but it wouldn't last until the first intermission.
Edson powered in El Paso's first goal from the blue line at 13:05, and Aaron Rasmussen equalized at 16:02. Then, as the Rhinos were killing off another penalty, defenseman Trent Edwards skated unchecked from his own zone and sent a perfect tape-to-tape pass to Tommy Malkmus, who split the defense for a breakaway shorthanded goal to give El Paso the lead four seconds from the end of the period.
New Mexico team captain Dakota Beaulieu equalized at 5:15 of the second period, but the Rhinos scored yet another shorthanded goal exactly 40 seconds later as David Nelson gave the visitors a lead they would not relinquish, starting a string of eight straight El Paso goals to finish the period.
Chad Cesarz at 10:06, Edson at 11:10, Tyler Basham just seconds later at 11:31, Austin Hoff on the power play at 13:06, Trent Edwards at 14:49, Edson's hat trick goal and the Rhinos' league-leading 39th shorthanded tally of the season at 17:28, and Malkmus at 19:30.
Malkmus notched his hat trick 1:01 into the third period. Hoff at 3:03 and Taylor Barger on the power play at 6:58 gave El Paso 11 straight goals before the Renegades' Talty stopped the streak at 14:29.
Hoff scored his hat trick goal to wrap the scoring at 16:13.
If there was a disappointment for Rhinos' head coach Cory Herman, it was in watching his team give the hosts nine power plays on the afternoon, though they only scored on the first one.
But El Paso's special teams was again special, going 2-for-4 on the power play and scoring a hat trick of shorthanded goals.
The Rhinos finish the season 36-8-0-2 and 74 points, El Paso's seventh regular season conference championship in seven seasons. New Mexico winds up its season 19-26-0-1. The Renegades' 39 points is three shy of the Phoenix Knights 42, the difference between making the Thorne Cup Playoffs and ending the season.
Phoenix heads to El Paso two weeks after giving the Rhinos a tough series at the Special Events Center. Games one and two of the best-of-three series are this Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MDT. If necessary, game three is Sunday at 4:30 p.m. MDT.
Playoff tickets are now available at the County Coliseum box office. For more information, contact the Rhinos' front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com .