Rhinos sweep Bison, advance to Thorne Cup
Austin Hoff scored twice, including the game-winner, as the El Paso Rhinos swept the Boulder Bison out of the Thorne Cup Playoffs with a 4-1 win Saturday night. El Paso won the first game of the best-of-three Mountain Conference championship series in double overtime, 3-2, Friday night.
Boulder didn't have quite the same jump Saturday that it did Friday after John Morales' game-winning gut-punch at 4:10 of the second overtime, and it showed early as Morales opened the scoring Saturday just 2:15 into the game.
Morales lifted in a shot from the blue line over goalie Colin Champine, who was screened on the play.
El Paso made it 2-0 as Hoff's one-time wrister beat Champine after a draw won by centerman Brenden Gust at 4:03 of the second period.
Rhinos Defenseman Matej Steigauf threw in a blue-line bomb on the power play to make it 3-0 at 11:08 of the second, as again Champine found himself completely screened.
But Ryan Gauthier found the puck at the crease after Deon Kidd and Taylor Porrier each took turns shooting at Alex Palumbo in net for El Paso. Gauthier's easy rebound goal put the Bison on the board at 12:49 of the second, and Boulder had a life-line.
However, the Rhinos hunkered down in the third frame, finally getting an insurance goal from Hoff, who batted Steigauf's power play shot from the point down and past Champine for his second of the night at 16:34.
Hoff was named First Star of the Game and now has five goals in the post-season. Steigauf was Second Star with his second goal of the playoffs and Palumbo was Third Star after stopping 30 of 31 Bison shots in the game.
The Rhinos earn the automatic trip to the Thorne Cup Championships, representing the Western States Hockey League's Mountain Conference as champion in their first year in the conference.
El Paso has won all seven regular season conference titles for which they've competed and six of seven conference playoff crowns.
Boulder is the only team to beat the Rhinos in the conference finals (2010).
El Paso will join the two-time defending Thorne Cup Champion Idaho Junior Steelheads, the Dallas Ice Jets and the Southern Oregon Spartans on the Steelheads' home rink in McCall, ID, for the Thorne Cup Championship Tournament beginning Thursday and culminating with the championship game Easter Sunday. Two championship berths have yet to be determined.