DALLAS SNIPERS (4-14-0, 8pts)
The Dallas Snipers ran into the freight train that is the 2017-18 Oklahoma City Blazers over the weekend, losing all three games by a total score of 30-4.
Right now, Dallas is leaning hard on Alex Hladonik (10-19-29), Sterling Cooper (12-15-27), and Jaroslav Vasicek (7-14-21), while getting some nice depth from the likes of rookie defenseman Graeme Scott (2-10-12) and Trevor Borlace (6-4-10).
Eric Eaton (5-10-15) played for the Snipers last season and his assist on Saturday put him over the 14 points he had in 52 games in 2016-17.
Michal Pistek (4-10-14) got just four points in 26 games last season, so he and Eaton are finding their groove with this version of the Snipers.
Coach Aaron Davis praised Hladonik's skill, but also that of newcomer Danil Trenikhin (4-2-6 in 9 games).
"Hladonik has been a great addition as well as our newest player Danil Trenikhin," Davis said.
For his part, Trenikhin added an assist and a penalty this weekend against the Blazers.
Dallas will have the week of Thanksgiving off and will play at Wichita the following weekend. The Jr. Thunder are reeling, so it may be an opportunity for Dallas to get their crew to gel a bit.
EL PASO RHINOS (18-0-0, 36pts)
The Rhinos sandwiched a 6-0 victory on Saturday with two 4-3 wins over hosts Colorado over the weekend. Sunday's win came in overtime thanks to a Justin Dubecky snipe in the extra period.
This was billed as the WSHL Series-of-the-Week (by me), and El Paso did not disappoint in their toughest three-game set since playing the Western Division's Ontario Avalanche in their second weekend of the season.
The Rhinos remain undefeated, and will be tested again in three weeks when they play the currently undefeated Oklahoma City Blazers.
Five El Paso skaters have more than 25 points, led by Chaseton Sare's 17-26-43 line, putting him on pace for a 132 points this season (52-80-132), which would best his 108 points from last year.
Goalie Filip Krasanovsky continues his excellent crease work in the year of the goalie in the WSHL, posting three straight victories against the Jr. Eagles. His slash line is now at 1.21/.943 along with his league leading 14 wins.
El Paso hosts Springfield this week, who they beat 1-0, in their last meeting two weeks ago.
OKLAHOMA CITY BLAZERS (15-0-0, 30pts)
Four Blazers scored two goals apiece in Friday's 12-1 win over Dallas led by Josh Chamberlain & Ivan Bondarenko's 2-4-6 line each.
Bondarenko added a 3-2-5 line the rest of the weekend, for a total of 5-6-11 in the three-game sweep of the Snipers. He now leads the team with a 24-27-51 line in just 15 games played. That line puts him on an unsustainable pace for 177 points (83-94-177) this season.
The Blazers are scoring at a 9.33 goals/game average while allowing only 1.33 per game, which is incredible, but Head Coach Gary Gill sees room for improvement for his high-flying team.
"I would like to see the team continue to grow," Gill said. "We are still a work in progress – we continually work on execution in all areas of the ice."
Goaltender Bobby Cloutier played all three games against Dallas, stopping 53 shots over the weekend. Cloutier is now sporting an impressive 1.38/.936 slash line to go along with his eight victories.
OKC had long stretches of domination last season, but coach Gill sees something different this season.
"This year's team has the mind set that we must get better at something everyday," he said. "This team has respect for every team in the league, but must play like no matter who we are facing, they are a first-place team."
The Blazers are one of only three undefeated teams left in the WSHL, one of whom is El Paso, which sits six points ahead of OKC in the Mid-Western Division standings. Those two teams face off against each other in three weeks after the Blazers take on Wichita this weekend, and Springfield the week after.
In the middle of a nine-game home streak, OKC may very well be battling with another undefeated team when they play the Rhinos in three weeks.
SPRINGFIELD EXPRESS (11-5-2, 24pts)
The Springfield Express righted the ship after being swept by El Paso two weeks ago, to roll over Mid-Western Division rivals Wichita in the series sweep over the weekend.
Nikita Sokov was passing the gravy all weekend, posting 11 assists in three games to go along with five goals against the Jr. Thunder. Sokov now leads the team with a 14-20-34 line to go along with 49 PIIMs.
Last week we said the Ledenkov Twins were seemingly always neck-and-neck with neither of them looking to pass the other in points. Filimon took that to heart, pulling away from his brother after going 4-6-10 against Wichita.
Arkhip went 3-5-8 over the weekend and now holds a 14-17-31 line, just two points behind his brother. With Springfield playing El Paso this weekend, it could be a chance for Arkhip to pull ahead in this season-long battle of brother rock-paper-scissors.
The schedule is not Springfield's friend in the upcoming weeks. With three games at El Paso this weekend, and a home-and-home six-game series with OKC after that, to close out 2017.
With their next nine games against two teams who are currently undefeated, the Express have their work cut out for them. They haven't played OKC yet, but their last game with the Rhinos was a 1-0 battle, so it's possible for Springfield to make some waves.
They currently sit just six points back of OKC, and could really shake things up in the next nine contests.
WICHITA JR. THUNDER (1-17-0, 2pts)
Braeden Thomas' strike on Saturday represented Wichita's only goal over the weekend – a three-game sweep at the hands of Springfield.
That goal put Thomas in the team lead with five goals to go along with two assists. He is now tied with Tyler Alverson for the team lead at seven points each.
Things aren't going to get any easier for the Jr. Thunder with the rest of their schedule featuring all Mid-Western Division foes.
This means Dallas will be their only opponent that currently has a losing record. Wichita plays the Snipers nine times the rest of the way, and could sneak a win in there somewhere. Other than that, victories against the likes of El Paso, Springfield and OKC could prove hard to come by.
--- Tyler Whidden for Harrington Sports Media
CASPER COYOTES (3-14-0, 6pts)
The Casper Coyotes kept it close against Ogden last Friday, getting two goals apiece from Jacob Elik and Dallen Neese. The two teams traded strikes in the second and third periods, but it was a four-goal first period that proved the difference for Ogden in a 9-5 win.
Casper was subsequently shut out in the following two games.
Casper's schedule favors them going forward for a bit, then does them no favors come mid-January. The Coyotes have a three-game set with Cheyenne this weekend to get ready for the Western States Shootout.
Once 2018 hits, they have another set with Cheyenne before trading dates with the likes of Colorado and Ogden well into mid-February. That will provide a serious challenge for a Coyote team looking to find their footing in the Mountain Division.
CHEYENNE STAMPEDE (2-17-0, 4pts)
Cheyenne is ready for the Western States Shootout, having won only two games this season it may be time for a change of pace for the Stampede.
After an 11-2 loss to the Superior RoughRiders at home on Friday, Cheyenne used a Logan Syrup hat trick to keep it close in Superior on Saturday. Ultimately the RoughRiders prevailed, 6-4, for the two-game series sweep fending off a three-goal third period for the Stamps.
The goals by Syrup were the first of the season as the 17-year old North Dakota native just joined the team and now has a 3-1-4 line in his first two games in the WSHL.
Saturday's game was by far the best for Cheyenne in a number of weeks and could mean things are looking up for the Stampede heading into the Las Vegas showcase.
George Leech's 4-5-9 line for the season leads the team after he went 1-3-4 over the weekend. His unassisted goal on Friday gave the Stamps a brief 1-0 lead.
Cheyenne plays six straight with Casper, who is also trying to turn things around. With 11 games before they head to Vegas, the Stampede have some time to try and get in gear before the new year.
COLORADO EAGLES (14-5-3, 31pts)
The Colorado Jr. Eagles headed into last weekend geared for a battle with the Mid-Western Division's first-place El Paso Rhinos. Billed as one of the top contenders for the Thorne Cup this year, the series with the Rhinos was to be a test to see if the Jr. Eagles truly belong in the conversation as one of the league's better teams.
The bad news is, the Jr. Eagles failed to win a game. The good news is, two of the games could have gone either way. A 6-0 shutout loss on Saturday was sandwiched with 4-3 losses on Friday and Sunday with the third game of the series going to overtime.
Sylas Kalyan scored in his first game with Colorado on Friday and goalies Hunter Bancroft and Braden LaJoie split time in the loss.
The Jr. Eagles have the depth to make a run this season with 17 players scoring in the double-digits led by Carter Dahl's solid 14-14-28 line.
They are getting solid goaltending and scoring so, at this point, it seems they just need to catch a break or two, and then don't be surprised to see the Jr. Eagles go on a mid-season tear.
Until then, they'll play two straight one-off games at Superior before a bye week. With four games before the Western States Shootout in Vegas, Colorado could use the desert tournament as a time to push themselves back into the Thorne Cup conversation.
OGDEN MUSTANGS (18-4-0, 36pts)
Ogden took all three games from Mountain Division rivals Casper over the weekend, trading goals in the final two periods of game one, but shutting out the Coyotes over the rest of the way.
A four-goal first period on Friday that saw Sage Fleming get a goal and an assist, and Matus Spodniak earn two assists, proved to be the difference in that game.
Mustangs head coach Jake Laime likes the way his team turned it around this weekend, shutting Casper out on Saturday and Sunday.
"We played well offensively," said Laime. "Friday, I think we got over confident. Saturday and Sunday, we controlled the neutral zone much better and spent less time in the defensive zone."
Spodniak finished the weekend with a 7-8-15 line in three games and now leads the league with a 36-41-77 line in just 22 games this season. His point totals put him 20 points ahead of the 19-38-57 totals that teammate Jacob Laurin – the second-leading scorer in the WSHL – has scored this year.
The Mustang's 178 goals scored are more than 50 better than the next team in the league, and they aren't showing any signs of slowing down having won 15 of their last 16 games.
Goalies Daniel Pavlicko and Oliver Marslatt split time over the weekend, each posting a shutout.
Pavlicko now has a .952 SV% is four appearances between the pipes for the 'Stangs.
Before heading to the Western States Shootout, the Mustangs have a bit of a bumpy road facing off with upstart Utah and undefeated Idaho in the coming weeks. The Outliers of Utah have Ogden in their sights, and Idaho is allowing a mere 1.2 goals a game on their way to winning their first 15 this season.
SUPERIOR ROUGHRIDERS (12-10-0, 24 pts)
The RoughRiders swept Mountain Division rivals Cheyenne in two games, outscoring their opponents 17-6, with Nikita Sheberov leading the way going 5-5-10 over the weekend.
Sheberov leads the Riders with a 28-21-49 line for the season, besting teammate Thore Weyrauch's 14-22-36 line that is good for second on the team.
While Sheberov and Weyrauch are doing great things for Superior, they may need some of their teammates to step up as the third-leading scorers on the team – Erik Buschmann and Erik Back – are a bit behind with 16 points each. That's a 20-point drop-off from second to third on the scoring chart for a team that's going to need to compete with the scoring of Utah, Colorado, and Ogden within their division.
Last week, Head Coach Paul DePuydt said his team is on the cusp of putting together a string of good games.
"I think we need to compete as a team for 60 minutes of every game," coach DePuydt said. "We know the Mountain Division opponents present a very tough challenge every game, so we must stay sharp at all times and can't take anything for granted."
Superior has two straight one-off weekends with Colorado, then it's three games with Cheyenne before the Shootout. That's five games over the course of four weeks giving the RoughRiders plenty of time to rest and practice and maybe make some noise in the second half of the season.
UTAH OUTLIERS (15-4-0, 30pts)
The Utah Outliers are running a pretty impressive seven-game winning streak, beginning with a big win against Mountain Division rivals Ogden.
Utah had the week off but faces Ogden again in a one-off at home this weekend.
Defenseman Zack Hoffman continues to tear it up in his first season in the WSHL with a 12-19-31 line that not only leads the Outliers team, but also leads his position within the league.
But the story this season for Utah has been the play of goaltenders Otto Saxin and Dawson Rodin. Both backstops are playing in their first seasons in the WSHL, and both are among the league leaders, each posting numbers that are gold in any league.
Rodin's 7-3 record leads the team in wins, but Saxin is undefeated with six victories. Saxin has an incalculable .54/.967 slash line and, in twice as many games, Rodin is pulling in a 1.51/.950 slash.
Utah were the darlings of last season, riding a new goalie to a mid-season roll that saw them get into the conversation as one of the better teams in the league. This year, that conversation has started early thanks to the play of Rodin and Saxin.
After Ogden, it's the Tahoe Icemen, who sit near the top of the Northwest Division. Then, they have two more games with the Mustangs, which will make it six straight games against two of the leagues better teams – a great test to see if Utah is for real.
--- Tyler Whidden for Harrington Sports Media