by Tyler Whidden

DALLAS SNIPERS (13-39-0, 26 pts)


The Dallas Snipers finished off their season series with division rivals Wichita with a six-game sweep of the Jr. Thunder. Trevor Borlace scored a hat trick on Friday, with assists from line mate Eric Eaton on each one, giving him 15 goals on the year. 

Sterling Cooper went 4-4-8 against Wichita and now leads the team with a 25-38-63 line on the year. 

All three Dallas goalies played well over the weekend, standing up to the task of stopping a Wichita team who have been focusing on getting pucks to the net. Brady Weiss got the victory on Friday behind 29 saves, Manny Legace stopped 32 shots Saturday, and Evan Williams made 24 saves in his 5-1 win on Sunday. 

The Snipers put on a good show, and will put on one more display for their hometown fans when they close out the regular season against Springfield.

Dallas has been playing well of late, and now face off with the three top teams in the Mid-Western Division – a stiff pre-playoff test to close out their season.

To help prepare the squad, they made some moves this week including sending goaltender Rafael Goncalves to Phoenix. The team also signed forwards Salomon Abergtj, T. J. Thompson, and defenseman Mikhail Romanov to the team to help them make some noise in the playoffs. Thompson assisted on Dallas’ first goal of the weekend against Wichita. 

Dallas also signed 18-year-old German defenseman Nicklas Pehl prior to Tuesday’s trade deadline.  Pehl had been playing with the Northumberland Stars (GMHL).

The new look Snipers will work to continue their current six-game winning streak this weekend against Oklahoma City.

EL PASO RHINOS (40-1-1, 81 pts)


The 2018 Thorne Cup host El Paso Rhinos, nearing the end of one of the greatest seasons in the history 

of the league, made some big splashes last week when they added even more firepower to their lineup via trades. 

The Rhinos added forward Jakob Kranabetter (28-66-94 in 34 games with Valencia), Nikita Pintusov (32-22-54 in 32 games with Valencia), and defenseman Christopher Westover (2-8-10 in 35 games with Valencia). 

Herman added another forward this week, signing 18-year-old Matthew Kesslering who scored 18 goals in 21 games in the Prarie Junior Hockey League (Canadian Junior B) this season.

Kranabetter is one of the WSHL’s all-time greats, holding the record for career assists with 220 in 184 games, and just nine points from becoming the league’s career points leader with 317 points thus far in his illustrious career. 

Prior to the addition of the aforementioned players, the Rhinos were led by Chaseton Sare’s 41-37-78 line, and leads the league in goals against with just 59 in 42 games. 

The new players added some spark in leading the Rhinos to a quality three-game sweep of the Colorado Jr. Eagles that included a goal for Kranabetter and an assist for Pintusov in Friday’s game. 

“The players we added are good hard-working players,” Head Coach Cory Herman said. “They played well (against Colorado). There is a lot for them to digest in terms of systems, but I thought they played well and we are excited to have them.”

The first-place Rhinos have just three series left to close out the year. When they travel to Wichita this weekend to take on the Jr. Thunder, it will close out the road schedule for an El Paso team that has gone undefeated in opposition rinks so far this season.

Assuming they are able to hold off second-place Oklahoma City for home ice through the Mid-Western Division playoffs, the Rhinos won’t have to leave town again this season as the Thorne Cup Finals are coming to Sierra Providence Events Center. 

OKLAHOMA CITY BLAZERS (33-7-2, 68 pts)


The Oklahoma City Blazers avoided a weekend sweep at the hands of Mid-Western Division rivals Springfield by shellacking the Express on Sunday. 

Ivan Bondarenko, Dionne Demke, and Victor Ekk each scored two goals in the 8-2 victory that snapped a three-game losing streak against Springfield.

Sunday’s win was enough to clinch a first-round bye for the Blazers as it created a 16-point lead over the third-place Express who only have six games (and 12 possible points) remaining on their schedule. 

Bondarenko (96-111-207 in 108 games with OKC) is on his way to cementing himself as one of the franchise’s all-time best players. Bondarenko (48-50-98 this year) is just 10 points shy of the franchise’s career record, six goals shy of the franchise’s career record, five assists shy of the career record, and just 

four points shy of matching the franchise record for points in a season. 

He already holds the franchise record for goals in a season and is just 17 shy of the single-season record for assists. 

The Blazers’ 298 goals are good for second in the league and they are back home after ten games away from OKC including seven straight at Springfield. The Blazers have only one regulation loss at home and will look to keep it that way when they take on Dallas this weekend. 

After Wichita the following weekend, OKC will close their season out at home against the Mountain Division’s Casper Coyotes. 

The Blazers were active at the deadline, bringing in productive forwards Joseph Hebert (13-40-53) and Jason Hickman (17-33-50) from the Valencia Flyers and defenseman Adam Cech from the Ontario Avalanche.  Cech played two seasons (2015-17) in the Mid-Western Division with El Paso.

SPRINGFIELD EXPRESS (23-16-6, 52 pts)


Springfield took the first two games of the weekend against Oklahoma City this weekend, making it three victories in a row after winning the lone game against the Blazers the weekend prior. The Express are rolling and are now 12-4-0 since the Western States Shootout with three games each against Dallas and Wichita left on their schedule. 

OKC and Springfield have played some of the best inter-division games of the year in the Mid-Western Division, trading punches in many of their games and making for unpredictable matchups all season. Because they’ve faced off well with one of the league’s best teams, beating them in three of the last four head-to-head meetings, the Express have to be feeling good heading into the playoffs. 

Springfield controlled the first two games, even after OKC scored first on Friday. They again, found themselves down 1-0 on Saturday, then 3-1 before scoring four straight and cementing the victory. Goaltender Kayne Pasquet made 80 saves between Friday and Saturday. 

Even after a one-sided loss on Sunday, the Express have to feel good about where they are at this point in the season and should have some confidence going into a playoff series against the Blazers, a squad Springfield may very well meet in the second round of the playoffs.

For now, they have two weeks off to rest and get healthy before returning to the ice March 2-4 at Dallas.  

WICHITA JR. THUNDER (3-36-0, 6 pts)


Tyler Inlow went 2-2-4 against Mid-Western Division rivals Dallas, as Wichita continues to improve their team play and focus on getting shots to the net. 

The Jr. Thunder have done well of late in putting pressure on opposing goalies. Against Dallas, the Jr. Thunder put 92 shots on net, scoring seven goals over the three games. 

In their own end, goalie Nathaniel Merriman stopped 32 on Friday and Austin Tilton took over Saturday and Sunday making 51 saves over the two games. 

Brett Cameron’s third-period strike on Friday was his first career WSHL goal, and 17-year old Braeden Thomas (10-10-20) leads the team after going 2-3-5 against Dallas. 

Wichita has two series with El Paso left on their schedule beginning at home this weekend. Next weekend’s series with OKC will be their final home series, and then the Jr. Thunder close out 2017-18 season at Springfield. 

--- Tyler Whidden for Harrington Sports Media