by Jarred Tennant

FRESNO MONSTERS (6-6-0, 12 pts)


The Fresno Monsters will look to separate themselves from the middle of the pack in the Western Division standings this weekend when they close out a six-game homestand with three games against the Bellingham Blazers.

The Monsters are one of those teams that seem to be more skilled than their record would indicate. They are only at .500 on the season despite accumulating a top-10 goal differential of plus-23.

Scanning the goal differentials of other teams hovering around the .500 mark – such as Ontario (plus-2), Bellingham (plus-2), Seattle (minus-10), and Superior (minus-6) – it seems that Fresno has been the victim of some bad luck this season.

Still, most of that “bad luck” can be attributed to a pair of season-opening series against Long Beach and Valencia, who are once again slugging it out at the top of the division. Looking ahead, the Monsters will have to endure another difficult stretch in their schedule from early December to late January.

Fresno will only play three teams during that period: Long Beach, Valencia, and Ontario, which are the top competition the Monsters are facing within the division.

The Monsters will get a break from those games when they travel to Las Vegas for the WSHL Showcase, which will be directly followed by the holiday break.

LONG BEACH BOMBERS (15-1-0, 30 pts)


The Long Beach Bombers, who have thoroughly dominated the majority of their opponents, have participated in five consecutive competitive games. For a club that currently sits tied atop the league standings, that’s a big deal and good way to gain valuable experience.

The main reason for those close games has been the strong play of Valencia, which Long Beach has played in four times in a row. The Bombers suffered their first loss of the season last weekend, a 5-3 setback on the road against the Flyers.

With so many lopsided games this season, Long Beach Head Coach Chris White admitted it can be difficult for his club to maintain its focus night in and night out.

“Of course, you see it happen at the highest levels of hockey, so no doubt it happens with the junior age group,” said White. “With some of the teams folding, it has actually created a more competitive schedule, which is great for our players and our team.

“It’s a marathon, so games like Saturday’s loss are going to happen. Now the important part is how we respond and bounce back.”

On a team full of puck wizards, rookie forward Miroslav Rohlik has managed to separate himself from the crowd. The Czech Republic native ranks third in the WSHL in goals with 20 and seventh overall in scoring with a line of 20-14-34.

“Miro has played well, and I think he can be even better,” said White. “He’s scoring a lot of goals from dirty areas despite being an undersized forward. He’s creative, a good skater, and he’s not afraid to shoot.

“He’s still adjusting to the North American rinks, style of play, and systems, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him elevate his game over the next month.”

Rohlik and his Bombers teammates took revenge on Valencia Thursday night, posting a 7-1 win. They will host Ontario on Saturday evening.

ONTARIO AVALANCHE (5-6-1, 11 pts)


Following an off-week that came at a perfect time, the Ontario Avalanche will hit the ice this weekend for a pair of home games against Valencia and Long Beach.

The Avs have yet to beat the Bombers or the Flyers this year. But all three games have been decided by two goals or fewer.

Ontario will need to get over the hump and find a way to win this week if it wants to have any chance at getting itself near the top of the division at the conclusion of the first half.

Similar to last year’s club, this year’s edition of the Avalanche is led by a trio of high-powered scorers: William Ma (10-6-16), Alex Bouchard (9-6-15), and Jesse Zaharichuk (5-12-17).

Ma, Bouchard, and Zaharichuk are averaging more than a point per game, and they are the only three Avalanche players to do so.

The offense has provided a boost to starting netminder Filip Subrt, who is having his best season yet in his third year with the Avs. With a 2.82/.916 slash line, Subrt is on pace for a career year through his first 11 appearances. The Slovakian has been a steady presence between the Ontario pipes.

PHOENIX KNIGHTS (3-13-2, 8 pts)


After coming close several times, the Phoenix Knights finally got into the win column last weekend with an 8-4 victory over San Diego.

But one win wasn’t enough for a Knights team that is sick of losing. Phoenix won the next two games against the Sabers to complete a three-game sweep and push itself right back into the thick of things in the division.

The Knights have played more games than anyone else in the division. Phoenix, which is 3-1-2 over its last six games, can try to keep the momentum going from its first sweep of the year.

Forward Anthony Masanotti had a breakout series against San Diego, scoring three goals while dishing out three assists to bring his line on the season to a team-best 13-5-18.

Masanotti’s play was matched by teammate Michael Caravella, whose 4-5-9 series was by far his best showing this season. Caravella’s scoring line is now at 5-12-17 through 18 games. He is just three points shy of his 7-14-21 campaign from all of last season.

Caravella and Masanotti both registered hat tricks in the San Diego series, with Caravella notching a four-goal game in the opening contest.

The Knights could have more opportunities for wins this weekend as they take on the Sabers once again, this time in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO SABERS (1-14-0, 2 pts)


The San Diego Sabers’ losing streak hit 10 last weekend as they suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of previously winless Phoenix. It has been that kind of year for a Sabers team that has not been able to recover from significant losses from last season’s roster.

This weekend, San Diego will play another three-game set against Phoenix. It will either be an opportunity for revenge or another setback in what has already been a long season.

After that, the Sabers will take on Valencia and Ontario in back-to-back weeks before traveling to Las Vegas for the Western States Showcase.

If things continue in this direction for San Diego, its games in Las Vegas will likely be played against some of the other last-place teams in the Northwest, Mountain, and Midwest Divisions. Right now, those teams are Southern Oregon, Cheyenne, and defending Thorne Cup champion Wichita, which is struggling after losing the majority of its championship roster.

VALENCIA FLYERS (11-3-0, 22 pts)


The Valencia Flyers were finally rewarded for their hard work last weekend with a win over previously undefeated Long Beach.

The Flyers dropped the first game on the road in the brief home-and-home series before claiming a 5-3 win at Ice Station in Valencia on Friday night.

Valencia is 10 points back of first-place Long Beach following their 7-1 loss there Thursday night, but it has two games in hand on the Bombers.

Valencia headed to Ontario following the game for a Friday evening matchup with the Avalanche.

Spencer Kozlowski has emerged as the Flyers’ most talented goaltender this year after being acquired from Las Vegas last season. Kozlowski sports an 8-2-0 record to go along with his 2.75 goals against average and .928 save percentage. He seems to be grabbing onto a workhorse role this season, and rightfully so, as he is statistically better than any of Valencia’s other three goalies by a wide margin.

--- Jared Tennant for Harrington Sports Media