Down 2-0 to start the game, the El Paso Rhinos looked to one familiar face and one not so familiar to help dig themselves out of the hole the Tulsa Rampage had dug for them.
The familiar face was winger Nick Gualano, who leads the Western States Hockey League in goal scoring. The unfamiliar was Gualano’s new linemate, forward Donald Geary. Together, they would combine for five of the six goals El Paso would put on Tulsa Friday night in a come-from-behind 6-3 win.
Gualano, the returning gunslinger who broke the Rhinos’ record for goals scored in one game by putting six by the Rampage in Tulsa earlier this season, scored half of El Paso’s Friday total; while Geary, a new recruit this season, continues to take his game to another level.
Combined with timely goalkeeping from Andrew Duff, who rebounded nicely from shellshock after giving up two goals in the first three minutes of the game, the Rhinos still have the best record in the league at 28-3-0 and 56 points.
The Rampage, 11-13-1, have retooled their lineup with a new coach and new players, but wound up with the same results as their last games against El Paso – though the teams have two more games to play in the three-game weekend series.
It was certainly in doubt after Tulsa’s Michael Criscuolo scored a mere 10 seconds into the game, followed at 2:59 by teammate Bobby Watson.
But, as they have so often this season, the Rhinos got their first spark from Gualano, who scored just over a minute after Watson’s tally to start El Paso’s comeback at 4:57.
That was followed by Geary’s tying goal at 8:55; and after Andrew Ketterer’s goal 17:17, the Rhinos had taken less than one period to wrest the lead back from the visitors.
Gualano and Geary traded goals again in the second period at 12:15 and 15:39, respectively, and Gualano notched the hat trick with an empty net strike at 19:11.
El Paso and Tulsa square off twice more, Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. MST and again Sunday afternoon at 5:30 p.m. MST.
For tickets and information, call the Rhinos’ front office at 915/479.PUCK (7825) or go to www.elpasorhinos.com.