by Scott Harrington

 WSHL standings are expressed W-L-OTW-OTL (“W” and “L” represent regulation wins and losses; shootouts are included in overtime results).  Three points are awarded for a regulation win, two for an overtime win and one for an overtime loss.

(Photo by Aaron Provencio—Monsters Gameday Photographer). 

 FRESNO MONSTERS (23-12-3-0, 75 pts)


The Fresno Monsters pulled off three comeback wins last week – including a big one over Long Beach, to hop over the Bombers and into first place in the Western Division.

Tyler Matthews made 59 saves as the Monsters knocked off Long Beach, 4-3, in a shootout Thursday night at Selland Arena.

“Matthews was phenomenal in that game,” said Fresno head coach Kevin Kaminski.  “He gave a chance to win and we found a way.”

The Monsters trailed 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, but came up with the tying goal each time.  The playoff intensity was ratcheted up even further when sudden death overtime couldn’t decide it, then Mathews and Domenic Bosetti of the Bombers combined to deny the first 14 skaters in the shootout.

Finally, in the eighth round, Martin Dlugolinsky scored for Fresno.

Long Beach had a chance to tie, but Mathews denied Gennady Malashenko, stretching out his right pad to make the save and to send the Monsters faithful home happy.

It was a tremendous hockey game.  Fresno still has their work cut out for them, however, if they want to hold onto the top spot in the division.

“We know they have seven games in hand so we can only control our own destiny and if we get help – great,” Kaminski said. “It was a HUGE win as we’re 3-4 against them this year and put something in their head if we meet up in playoffs.”

Long Beach left Fresno after that one game, but in came the Valencia Flyers.  Fresno took all six points from a two-game set with Valencia, falling behind in both games, but coming back to win both.

The Flyers held a 3-2 lead in the second period on Friday, but Fresno rallied for a 6-3 win as six different Monsters scored.

Valencia held the lead in the third period Saturday, with a 4-2 advantage, but the Monsters came back again, tying the game, then winning it in overtime on a Jarred Hicks goal.

Jeremy Velazquez assisted on three goals, including the game-winner.

Kaminski knows they are playing with fire if they keep falling behind.

“We just need to be more consistent from start to finish especially our starts have been flat,” said Kaminski.  “We need better leadership and stick to the game plan and not play too fancy. We need to work together for 60 minutes.  Now is the time with only 12 games left.”

Mathews entered the game in the second period in relief of starter Max Karlenzig (12 saves) and stopped all 13 Flyers shots in the third period to backstop the Saturday comeback.

“We need two goalies going for the playoffs in case of injury,” said Kaminski.  “Or if we play three games in three nights, or one has an off night the other can come in and slam the door.”

The Monsters are in Bremerton, WA for three games against the West Sound Admirals this weekend.

LONG BEACH BOMBERS (22-4-3-2, 74 pts)


It’s a shame somebody had to lose Thursday’s game at Fresno’s Selland Arena but that’s the way it goes and the Long Beach Bombers were that team.

The extra point that Fresno claimed by winning the eight-round shootout ended up being the difference as the Monsters now have a one-point edge on the Bombers for the división lead.

But the Bombers can rest easy knowing they have seven games (and 21 possible points) in hand on Fresno.  They get right back to work this week with a “home-and-home-and-home” series against the Valencia Flyers, playing at Ice Station Valencia Thursday and Saturday with the series switching to The Rinks, Lakewood for the middle game on Friday.

Even with a demanding schedule in front of them that includes a pair of three-game inter-division series with first place teams (Ogden and Bellingham), the Bombers have a good chance to leverage those games in hand.

They do not, however, have any more opportunities to play the Monsters head-to-head.

Long Beach’s veteran goaltender Domenic Bosetti, with a record of 18-3-2, ranks second in the WSHL in wins and save percentage (.930).  Having him between the pipes give the team a level of confidence not matter who they are matching up against.

Long Beach also brought in some defensive Depth this week, signing blue liner Christoffer Juvas from the Swedish junior ranks where he was playing at the top level (U20 SuperElite).

ONTARIO AVALANCHE (11-19-1-2, 37 pts)


Three big wins – including one over the team directly above them in the Western Division – gave the Ontario Avalanche a boost in the standings.

The Avalanche are in the midst of a 6-3-0 stretch and have moved to within nine points of third-place San Diego.  For most of the first half of the season it looked as if Ontario would battle it out with Valencia for fourth place, but the Avs are making their move.

Charles Riordan scored twice in the first period and Will McEwen made 62 saves as the Ontario Avalanche rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to defeat the Sabers in San Diego, 4-3, on Friday.

In a two-game series against the Northwest Division’s Southern Oregon Spartans, the Avalanche stuck to their usual formula:  balanced scoring a strong goaltending, to defeat the Spartans.  Five different Avs scored in a 5-3 Saturday and four different skaters found the net in a 4-0 win Sunday.

Connor Duffy made 41 saves to win the first game and Kurt Yano posted a 29-save shutout on Sunday. 

Home ice for the first round of the playoffs is not realistic at this point, but catching the Sabers is definitely something that can be accomplished if the team continues top lay well.

On top of those six wins in the last nine games the team played well in losses to Fresno and El Paso in that stretch and, if you go back a little bit further, they beat Long Beach in mid-December.

Ontario will no doubt circle their three remaining head-to-head meetings with the Sabers – all between February 2 and 17 – as key games if they are going to catch San Diego.

The Avalanche are in El Paso, TX this week to face the defending champs in their barn.  The points will not be easy to come by, but it is a great test for a team that is trending in the right drectiom.

 SAN DIEGO SABERS (13-15-3-1, 46 pts)


The team with the best record on the entire Western States Hockey League is in town this weekend to take on the Sabers as San Diego attempts to maintain its third-place standing in the Western Division.  The Ogden Mustangs have lost only one game in regulation this season, collecting 100 of a possible 105 points in the standings with a record of 33-1-0-1.

The Sabers enter the weekend with a nine-point lead on the fourth-place Ontario Avalanche who have their work cut out for them as well this weekend, as they are in El Paso for a three-game series.

The Sabers split a pair of games last weekend, defeating the Flyers 7-5 in Valencia on Thursday, then dropping a 4-3 decision to Ontario at home.

Jere Jaakkola scored the game-winner in the third period in Valencia.  Marshall McKallip made 40 saves and Karel Kankovsky, Jakub Vesely and Noah McNutt each scored twice for San Diego.

At Iceoplex Escondido on Friday, Ontario’s Will McEwen made 62 saves as the Avalanche rallied from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to top the Sabers, 4-3.

San Diego peppered the Ontario net in the third period in an attempt to tie the game, but McEwen made 21 saves in that period alone.  Karel Kankovsky scored to get the Sabers within a goal, but San Diego couldn’t come up with the equalizer.

McNutt and Aleksis Leskinen also scored for San Diego and McKallip made 22 saves.

McNutt has now scored three goals in his first four games since joining the team.  The 2000-born forward played in the USPHL for the Motor City Hawks this year and last.  He put up 47 points (25-22-47) in 32 games this season, so clearly brings some scoring touch to the table.

The 5’10”, 170-pound Michigander also collected 75 PIM with the Hawks this season so there is some edge to his game as well.

VALENCIA FLYERS (6-18-0-4, 22 pts)


 Forcing overtime in Fresno on Saturday put one point on the board for the Valencia Flyers, but three losses have the team 15 points out of fourth place in the Western Division derby.

Three games with Long Beach this will not make it very easy to start closing that gap – although the Flyers have defeated the Bombers already this season.  Valencia edged Long Beach, 2-1, at Ice Station on October 26.

The Flyers face the Bombers five more times after their three games this week.  That is a 12-game season series against the three-time division champs.

Throw in three more with Fresno, and a three-game trip to Seattle to play the second-place team in the Northwest Division, (not to mention more battles with division foes Ontario and San Diego) and Valencia’s schedule does not get easier down the stretch.

On the bright side, Valencia holds five games in hand on the Avalanche and, if they can take advantage of those, they can close the gap considerably.

If they are going to do that, they need somebody other than Danylo Moroz (24 goals) and Tristan Warr (22) to start scoring.  Dominik Knap, who just scored his 10th goal of the season last weekend, is the only other Flyer to hit double-digits on goals.  Valencia is at the bottom of the Western Division in goal production with 96 in 28 games.

Flyers goaltender Mack Willy, in particular, could use some goal support.  Over his last six appearances going back to the showcase in Vegas, he has stopped 194 of 217 shots (.894), but does not have any wins to show for it (0-3-1).

--- Compiled by Scott Harrington for Harrington Sports Media