The Rhinos are now 6-0-0 with the full 12 points to pace the league after the defending champion Phoenix Polar Bears (5-1-0, 10 points, T-1st place Western Division) were shut out by the Valencia Flyers (5-2-0, 10 points, T-1st Western Division) in Phoenix.
Sunday's win comes on the heels of a 6-2 victory Friday night and a 4-1 Saturday triumph, but was much different from the first two games, as El Paso lost a lead and had to claw its way back twice to stay undefeated.
The Rhinos' Nick Gorup opened the scoring at 11:08 of the first period, and after Hayden Kowalski notched his second goal of the season 2:46 into the second period, El Paso was cruising along with a 2-0 lead.
The Diablos roared back, though, scoring the game's next three goals, and by the end of 40 minutes the home team had a 3-2 lead.
Last season's team may have been the Mid-West Division champions, but might have found the going rough as they tried to finesse their way back into a lead. This season's Rhinos are a lot more like their namesake suggests - thick-skinned and hard-charging.
Forward Austin Balko's goal was the first step back for El Paso at 4:05 of the third, tying the game, 3-3. But San Antonio took yet another lead on the Diablos' third power play goal of the game at 5:34.
However, it took under five minutes for the Rhinos to answer the bell, as Zach Goller took a feed from last season's leading scorer, Marcus Wilhite, and Balko at 10:18 to tie it a second time, 4-4. Wilhite also assisted on Balko's goal, as El Paso's top line keyed both rallies in the final 20 minutes.
No goals were scored through the last 15 minutes of action, though, including the rest of the third period and the five-minute overtime, sending the game to shootout.
El Paso's first two shooters, Zack Kohn and Nick Gorup, were the only two Rhinos to tally goals in the shootout, but backup goaltender Anthony Natali stoned all but one of the Diablos' five tries to pull the full two points out of a hard-fought game. Gorup gets the credit for the game-winner, officially his second goal of the game.
"They just work so hard," said head coach Cory Herman, on the road back to El Paso after the game. "This is such a blue-collar team, hitting, diving in front of pucks - they do whatever it takes to win."
"You should see these guys - I don't think there's a player on this bus without some kind of scrape, cut or bruise on his face. It's really
Gorup tallied a goal in each of the first two games as well, giving him four on the weekend along with Austin Balko, who also had two assists for a six-point weekend. Marcus Wilhite matched Balko, scoring just once Saturday but pouring in five assists. Sean Molina had five assists as well for El Paso, which will be back for the start of classes Monday morning, as the Rhinos ready for their next series of games this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in suburban Denver, CO, against the expansion Colorado Outlaws (4-2-0, 8 points, 4th place Mid-West).
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