Rhinos Down Bison in Double OT, 3-2
John Morales scored the game-winner at 4:10 of the second overtime and the El Paso Rhinos won Game One of the Mountain Conference Championship in the Thorne Cup Playoffs, 3-2.
Morales and the Rhinos turned the tide with the start of the second OT after the Bison had steadily outshot and out-hustled the hosts as the game wore on.
Boulder led 1-0 up to the midway point of regulation after Austin Snedden popped in a short rebound off of Chandler Yoder's shot just 2:09 into the game.
But the Rhinos worked their way back and, as is often the case in playoff hockey, unlikely heroes emerge as game-changers.
With El Paso on the power play, Austin Hoff's shot was deflected wide past Bison goalie Colin Champine who came off his line for the stop, allowing Czech Republic defenseman Jan Dam to slide in a back-hander to even the score at 9:54 of the second period.
The Rhinos scored their second goal shorthanded off of another rebound, as Champine stopped Chad Cesarz initial shot. The puck bounced to a waiting Andrew Bradford who gave El Paso its first lead at 2:08 of the third period.
But Boulder would answer on its fourth power play as Deon Kidd deflected Dylan Hassell's shot from the point past Rhinos' goalie Alex Palumbo, tying the game at 6:21 of the third.
From there, the Bison began to dominate possession. After being outshot by El Paso 13-6 in the first period and 9-7 in the second, Boulder turned the tables on the Rhinos, outshooting them 11-4 in the third period and 10-3 in the first overtime.
However, El Paso poured it on in the second OT, outshooting the visitors 3-0 before Morales ended it.
After a turnover at the blue line, centerman Tommy Malkmus found the Los Angeles native coming down the middle of the ice. Morales took two strides into the high slot before zipping a wrister that beat Champine over the shoulder to end the game and give the Rhinos a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.
El Paso and the Bison will play again Saturday at 7:30 p.m. MDT and Sunday at 4:30 p.m. for Game Three, if necessary.
Tickets are available at the El Paso County Coliseum box office with free tickets available to military and military families. For more information, contact the Rhinos' front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825), or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.