Miners shutout Dallas Baptist to win TCHC Championship

Photo Courtesy of Andres Acosta/El Paso Herald Post

Jeremy Carranco, Contributor

The UTEP men’s hockey club used a strong second period and great defense to shutout Dallas Baptist 6-0. The win earned UTEP the first ever Texas Collegiate Hockey Conference (TCHC) Championship and a record of 30-3 on the season.

UTEP entered the TCHC playoffs as the number one seed. Dallas Baptist was the second seed.

The Miners defeated the Patriots earlier last month in back-to-back games, 7-3, 6-5. Still, UTEP head coach Tom Herman did not take them lightly.

“We know they are a big skilled team, they skate really well and have a lot of scoring power,” Herman said. “We knew if we got a lot of physical play going it would wear them down a bit and knock them off their game.”

Both teams started the game with high intensity with hard hitting being exchanged both ways. UTEP dominated the full-strength play, out-skating and getting some opportunities to score in the opening period. However, Patriots goalie Joshua Messick earned some big saves off a couple of Nicholas Howell breakaways to keep the Miners in check. UTEP had numerous chances to get shots on goal but the puck was simply mishandled on each trip.

The Miners dominated shots on goal in the game with 41 to the Patriots’ 22.

Lukas Znosko got the puck in the net for UTEP in the seventh minute of play of the first period but the officials waived off the score for apparent goalie interference by Znosko.

Both teams would head into the first intermission held scoreless.

UTEP wasted no time in the second period as they scored during one minute and 23 seconds in. The score for Howell was much needed after appearing uncomfortable in the first period with some mishandling of the puck and the two saves by Messick.

Howell would find the back of the net yet again in the eleventh minute of the second period as Jorge Duenas-Abin and Austin Grawbarger found a way to get the puck to the active Howell. UTEP would score again just one minute and 19 seconds later as Jeramy Rezaeepour earned his 43rd goal on the season.

UTEP led 3-0 at the end of the second period. Leading with 11 more shots on goal than the Patriots, owning a 20-9 advantage.

There’s something about the second period of play that has given the Miners the edge in the last two games. UTEP scored five of their seven total goals in the second period of their win against Texas Tech yesterday afternoon in the semifinals.

“I thought we had a lot of chances in the first period,” Herman said. “I told the guys to just stick to the game plan, don’t change anything because we have found success in our game all season long. Our team was definitely frustrated but we stuck with it and earned the victory.”

The third period went by quickly in the first ten minutes as both teams would exchange penalties and saves. Scoring resumed for UTEP late in the ninth minute of the period, as Brett Bloor cashed in on their first power play goal of the day for the Miners. The goal was Bloor’s 26th on the season.

Messick, for Dallas Baptist was forced to come off the ice for a sudden illness that delayed the game in the third with seven minutes remaining in the period.

Later in the 15th minute UTEP scored again, but this time it was Znosko who found the back of the net for the 43rd time this season. The Miners would score just 15 seconds later as Howell tallied his third goal of the game earning him the hat-trick.

Duenas-Abin and brothers Matt and Angel Sanca all had 2 assists on the day to help pace the Miners. UTEP goalie Aleksander Lazarski posted just his second shutout on the season in the win, earning a total of 22 saves in the contest.

“I thought we played really well as a team, we didn’t want any goals in and the stand tonight wasn’t just a goalie stand, it was a team stand,” Lazarski said. “Our goal is always to win, the shutout was the sprinkle on top.”

After the game, TCHC commisoner Sean Boyle announced three Miners to the playoff MVP list. Those three were Lazarski, Rezaeepour, and Znosko.

Rezaeepour finishes with 43 goals and 37 assists for a team leading 80 points on the season, playing in all 33 games this season.

“We came out flying, this was the hardest we played all year,” Rezaeepour said. “This meant so much to us, every morning we get up at 5 am to practice and it just shows us that hard work does pay off, I like to lead by example and this season I did that, always striving to do the right thing for my teammates.”

Zonsko finished with 43 goals and 34 assists for a total of 77 points on the season, playing in 32 of the 33 games. Lazarski finished with a .911 save percentage with just a 2.36 goal against average on the season, playing in all 33 games.

“To be able to find the success we have had in just our second year as a program is awesome,” Herman said. “Today’s game was a perfect example of everyone pulling their weight and scoring when needed, all our guys bought in to what we wanted to accomplish at the start of the year, this isn’t a team full of individuals, this is a team full of Miners.”

The Miners season may not be over just yet, Herman is awaiting the news to find out if his club will be playing in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) regionals, which begin Feb 24. Herman said the team should find out if they make it or not this Tuesday.

“We will see what happens there, after that we’re going to have to reload and just keep getting stronger as a club,” he said. “I want to say thank you to all our fans and everyone involved in the community for their support, we’re just in our second year and to have this kind support has been amazing.”