by Scott Harrington

The El Paso Rhinos topped the Ogden Mustangs in overtime in the final game of the preliminary stage of the 2019 Thorne Cup, giving them the #1 seed for the playoff round.  The Rhinos will go up against their Mid-Western Division rivals, the Oklahoma City Blazers, in Friday’s early (3:00 p.m.) semifinal game.  OKC defeated Long Beach yesterday to snag the fourth and final semifinal spot.

The Mustangs meanwhile, as the #2 seed, will go up against the Edson Aeros.  Edson was in pretty good shape going into the third and final day of the round robin, but defeated Bellingham to remove any doubt.  Ogden and Edson met in the preliminary round with the Mustangs winning, 4-1.

Oklahoma City 6, Long Beach 1 – The Oklahoma City Blazers eliminated the Long Beach with a 6-1 win over the Bombers in Thursday’s early game.  In the process, OKC secured a top-four finish in the Preliminary Round, meaning their season will be at least one day longer and that’s what every team is hoping for this time of year.

Henrik Overvall’s goal with 1:00 left in the first period broke a 1-1 tie and gave Oklahoma City a lead they would not surrender.

The game was still close going into the third period as Nathan Inniss of Oklahoma City scored the only goal of the middle frame, but the Blazers finished strong.  Another Inniss tally sparked a run of three goals in a span of 1:21 that sealed the Bombers’ fate, not just in this game, but in the tournament as they were eliminated from contention with a fifth-place finish.

Bobby Cloutier was again sharp for Oklahoma City, stopping 28 of 29 shots.  Domenic Bosetti made 32 saves for Long Beach.

Edson 6, Bellingham 1 – The Edson Aeros rebounded from a 4-1 loss to Ogden on Wednesday to defeat the Bellingham Blazers, 6-1, in the final game of the preliminary round for both clubs.  The Aeros move on to Friday’s semifinals while the Blazers are eliminated.

It was a one-goal game after 20 minutes of play, but Edson scored four times in the middle frame to open up a 5-1 lead after two periods.

Brian Bailer scored :42 into the second period, then Emil Johansson scored a pair of goals 1:37 apart and the Aeros were on their way.

Quinten Stempfel curled out of the right corner and moved the puck back to the right point to Bailer who fired the puck through traffic and into the back of the net to put the Blazers back on their heels less than a minute into the period.

Later in the period, Sebastian Heden and Johansson moved in on the Bellingham net on a two-on-one.  Heden held onto the puck and tried to make a move to score himself.  He was denied, but the puck trickled just wide of the left post and Johansson was able to scoop it into the net.

Ninety-seven second later, with the Aeros on the power play, Kevin Lundin made a tremendous pass from the far side of the right circle through a seam in the Bellingham penalty killers to Johansson in the left faceoff dot.  Johansson one-timed the shot in side the near post to give Edson a four-goal lead with 6:35 left in the second period.

Timon Prexler got Bellingham on the board before the second intermission but the Blazers were already in a hole.

Johansson (2-3-5) finished the game with five points while Lundin (2-2-4) and Heden (1-3-4) chipped in four apiece.

Edson goaltender Liam Austin stopped 18 of 19 Bellingham shots.

El Paso 3, Ogden 2 (OT) – Max Kamper scored 3:01 into sudden-death to give the El Paso Rhinos a 3-2 overtime win over the Ogden Mustangs in the final game of the round robin.  Both teams move on to Friday’s semifinal round.

Neither team was able to score until the last minute of the second period.  The Rhinos turned the puck in just inside the Ogden blue line and a quick stretch pass went to Ammon Anderson at the far blue line along the right-wing boards.  He slowed the play down, waiting as Bobby McKinley out-skated three Rhinos defenders and went hard to the net.  Anderson put a pass on McKinley’s tape and he banged it home.

Shots were even, 10-10, in a scoreless first period but the Rhinos controlled play in the middle frame.  They out-shot the Mustangs, 21-5, but Ogden goalie Jacob Hough stopped every one of them.  He finished the game with 40 saves.

The Mustangs started the third period on the power play with a fresh sheet of ice and an opportunity to build on their lead, but it was El Paso scoring shorthanded to tie the game.

Ogden set up shop and controlled possession in the El Paso end, but a pass from the goal line to the slot missed the target and the puck slid out into the neutral zone.  Florian Seelman out-skated the lone Ogden player back, moved into the Mustangs zone, and ripped a shot from the right faceoff dot. Hough stopped it, but Dillon Manchester was skating hard to the net without the puck and was there to swat the rebound into the net to tie the game.

The shorthanded goal seemed to give the Rhinos some life and they started buzzing the Ogden zone, creating several quality scoring chances.  It was a seemingly harmless shot from a severe angle, however, that found the net off the stick of Martin Dubsky, giving El Paso their first lead of the game.

Dubsky skated the across the blue line and into the teeth of the Ogden defense.  The puck was knocked away from him and towards the left-wing boards, but Dubsky recovered the disc and threw it towards the net.  The puck hit a defenseman’s stick and deflected up over Hough’s shoulder.

Lukas Vacin re-energized the Ogden crowd with 3:39 left, wristing a shot towards the El Paso net that hit a Rhinos defenseman and went in past Rhinos goalie Nils Velm (25 saves) on the short side.

Ogden went on a late power play but was unable to convert and the game went to overtime – the first OT game of the 2019 Thorne Cup.

regulation wins-regulation losses-OT wins-OT losses (points)


  • El Paso Rhinos                     2-0-1-0 (8 points)
  • Ogden Mustangs               2-0-0-1 (7 points)
  • Edson Aeros                          2-1-0-0 (6 points)
  • Oklahoma City Blazers  2-1-0-0 (6 points)
  • Long Beach Bombers      0-3-0-0 (0 points)
  • Bellingham Blazers          0-3-0-0 (0 points)


The Top four teams qualify for semifinals


3:00 p.m.              El Paso Rhinos vs. Oklahoma City Blazers – The Rhinos edged the Blazers for both the regular season and playoff titles in the Mid-Western Division.  Can they make it three-for-three and oust OKC from the Thorne Cup as well?

7:30 p.m.              Ogden Mustangs vs. Edson Aeros – The Mustangs are one win away from the opportunity to play for the Thorne Cup on their home ice.  The Edson Aeros stand in their way in what is a re-match of Wednesday’s round robin meeting won by Ogden, 4-1.

--- Compiled by Scott Harrington for Harrington Sports Media