Western States Hockey League

Western States Hockey League: Idaho Jr. Steelheads celebrate fourth Thorne Cup championship

Western States Hockey League: Idaho Jr. Steelheads celebrate fourth Thorne Cup championship

By Brian Lester

One year after being denied the Thorne Cup Championship by the rival El Paso Rhinos, the Idaho Junior Steelheads have returned to the top of the Western States Hockey League.Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Idaho Jr. Steelheads,Trent Ritchie,Thorne Cup,USA Junior Hockey

Idaho capped off the run to a title in late April by winning the championship series three games to one over the Rhinos.

Idaho lost the opener 4-3, but won the next three games by the scores of 5-2, 4-2 and 8-0 to win their fourth title in the last five years.

“Not winning it last year was a huge driving factor for the returning players,” Idaho assistant coach Trent Ritchie said. “They understood the importance of winning a title and the rivalry Idaho has with El Paso. They helped the younger players understand that, too. Nothing but a championship was going to be good enough for this team.”

Ritchie said the series was challenging from start to finish but was pleased with how the Steelheads responded after losing Game 1 on the road.

Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Idaho Jr. Steelheads,Trent Ritchie,Thorne Cup,USA Junior Hockey“It was a great series against a very good team,” Ritchie said. “El Paso was physical and played hard, and our guys responded to that and matched their effort. We were a very resilient team. It feels great to see the guys come out on top.”

Idaho could have set itself up to sweep the series after building a 3-0 lead in the opening game. Arturs Sevcenko tallied one goal and an assist despite the loss while goalie Tyler Hough made 20 saves.

“It was really tough to lose that first game,” Ritchie said. “We didn’t finish in that game but we learned from it and came back strong in a tough environment.”

The Steelheads scored three goals in the third period to nail down the 5-2 win and head home with the series even at 1-1. Johannes Yucel came through with two goals in the period, including an empty-netter, while Austin Althaus racked up 20 saves.

Idaho broke a 2-2 tie in the third period of game three to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Sevcenko paved the way with a pair of goals and Hough nailed down the win as he made 18 saves.

The finale was dominated by the Steelheads, with Kyle Williams and Macky Power racking up two goals apiece. Hough tallied nine saves in goal. Sevcenko dished out four assists to fuel the offensive attack.

Ritchie said the team’s depth and balance was vital to its success, both in the regular season and in the playoffs.

“We have four very good lines and we kept pressure on them in every game,” Ritchie said. “Our depth played a big role for us. I thought both of our goaltenders did a tremendous job throughout the series and our defense took pride in playing as a team and limiting shots.”

Right from the start this season, Idaho harbored hopes of being a champion.

“We came into the season expecting to win a championship,” Ritchie said. “I thought we had a special group of players and they had the confidence they could get the job done. They stepped up when it mattered. I also thought this team was very close and played well together. They also worked hard all season.”

Winning a championship adds to the profile of a team and Idaho has further established itself as one of the top junior hockey teams in the country by taking home the Thorne Cup. Ritchie said the success will help make a difference on the recruiting trail.

“The recruiting starts now, and when you can tell kids the team has won championships, it means a lot,” Ritchie. “Everyone wants to be a part of a winning team. We also continue to develop guys who get the chance to move up or play in college. The challenge now is finding players to fill those spots and being ready to contend for a title again next year.”


Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

El Paso, Idaho set to battle in Thorne Cup finals starting Friday

Second half propels Ontario Avalanche uphill in Western Division

Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

Colorado Evolution names Trey Spiller as new head coach

Colorado Evolution names Trey Spiller as new head coach

Colorado Evolution general manager John Kopperud announced on April 4 that the club has named Trey Spiller as the team’s new head coach.

“We are very excited to bring Trey back into the Evolution fold. All the families loved Trey while he was here and the passion he will bring to the junior program will be contagious,” Kopperud said.Colorado Evolution,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,USA Junior Hockey

Spiller, 28, brings 11 years of professional coaching and playing experience to the Evolution bench, which includes serving as a head coach to a multitude of club and high school teams around the country.

The St. Louis, Mo., native joins the Evolution after spending one season as head coach of the Greyhounds (MSCHA), where he posted a 15-3-3 record, and won the Suburban Central division title for the first time in school history.

He has compiled a league championship in the SIHC and various coaching accolades throughout his coaching career. Spiller previously served as an assistant/goalie coach with the Colorado Evolution and a goalie demonstration coach with Eli Wilson Hockey Clinics.

Prior to joining the coaching ranks, Spiller played in the former Central States Hockey League, winning a league championship and Tier-2 Junior National Championship for the St. Louis Jr. Blues (2004-05). He then moved on to play four years with St. Louis University of the ACHA (D1) from 2006-2011.

Additionally, WSHL veteran player and coach Kyle Stachowiak will join as an associate coach and player personnel director and Dave Rogowski will be the goaltending coach.

“We have assembled a top-notch staff and the Evolution community should be very excited,” Kopperud added.

Kopperud, GM of the Jr. Evolution and Director of the Junior/Midget program at the Evolution, will also lend a hand behind the bench.

“It’s a team effort,” said Spiller. “The entire program is passionate about the development of these young adults, that’s what enticed me. The facility here is the best and I am very excited and confident to see all we can accomplish.”

The Western States Hockey League (WSHL) is an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU)-sanctioned Junior A U20 hockey league. The league has 30 teams in the Mid-West and Western U.S., and provides great development and exposure opportunities.

Tryouts for the Evolution will be later in the summer.

“We are ready to go!” added Spiller.



John Kopperud, General Manager, gm@coloradoevolution.com, 720-988-5777

Trey Spiller, Head Coach, 314-681-3391


Big Bear Ice Arena 8580 Lowry Boulevard Denver, CO 80230



Western States Hockey League: El Paso, Idaho set to battle in Thorne Cup finals starting Friday

Western States Hockey League: El Paso, Idaho set to battle in Thorne Cup finals starting Friday

By Brian Lester

El Paso is right where most expected the Rhinos to be at this time of the year – in the Thorne Cup finals playing for the right to win another Western States Hockey League championship.Western States Hockey League,WSHL,El Paso Rhinos,Cory Herman,USA Junior Hockey

The reigning league and United Hockey Union national champions punched a ticket to the final series with a thrilling 3-2 win over Ogden on March 28. David Brancik scored the game-winner with a little under two minutes left in regulation to wrap up the hard-fought semifinal series against the Mustangs.

Marek Langhammer and Gavin Abbott also scored goals for the Rhinos, who also got a stellar performance from goalie Adam Vay, who faced a total of 77 shots over the weekend and only allowed three goals.

“We played extremely well in the series,” said El Paso head coach Cory Herman. “We have things we can improve on, but I thought we worked really hard against a great Ogden team. We made plays when we needed to make them.”

The Rhinos will face the Steelheads beginning April 10 in a best-of-five series that will feature, arguably, the two best franchises in the WSHL.

“They are a very skilled team and well coached,” Herman said. “They are playing really good hockey right now and we are going to have to play our best to beat them.”

El Paso won the series opener against the Mustangs by a 2-1 score, with Abbott scoring five minutes into the third period to help seal the deal. It was the first postseason goal for Abbott. Jonah Pearson also scored in the victory.

The Rhinos entered the year with only a couple of players back from last year’s national championship run. But they didn’t miss a beat, coming together at the right time and forging the type of chemistry a team needs to contend for a championship.

“It’s been a fun year,” Herman said. “We basically had a brand new team but everyone has been on the same page. We’ve continued to improve all season and we’re confident we can keep it going.”

Although winning a league and national title isn’t easy, Herman is confident this team has the ability to accomplish both goals. For now, the focus is on the Steelheads.

“We have to keep it simple,” Herman said. “As long as we stick to the game plan and play hard, we’ll have a chance to compete for a championship.”


Steelheads excited for fifth Thorne Cup final

By Brian Lester

Idaho assistant head coach Trent Ritchie knew the Jr. Steelheads would have their hands full in a Western States Hockey League semifinal playoff series against Fresno.Idaho Jr. Steelheads,Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Thorne Cup,USA Junior Hockey

But Idaho was ready for the challenge, winning both games against the Monsters. The Steelheads rolled to a 5-1 win in the opener and earned a 3-1 win in the finale, punching a ticket to the Thorne Cup championship series against reigning league and national champion El Paso.

The Steelheads won three straight from 2011 to 2013 before the Rhinos won last year.

“Fresno is a very good hockey team. They play hard and play physical and with a lot of intensity,” Ritchie said. “We knew we had to match their style of play and come out with the same intensity they played with. I thought our guys did a good job of that and we came out on top.”

In the series finale, Idaho stormed in front 3-0 and never looked back. Oleg Losev, Victor Carlsson and Macky Power all scored for the Steelheads while Tyler Hough racked up 28 saves.

In the opening game of the series, Arturs Sevcenko paved the way as he scored two goals and dished out an assist. Kyle Kruenegel, Johannes Yucel and Power also scored for Idaho in the win. Hough tallied 20 saves in the victory.

“I think one of our biggest strengths is our depth,” Ritchie said. “Whether it’s been call-ups or injuries, we’ve always had someone step up and fill the void. Our depth has played a big part in our success.”

Now comes the challenge of facing off against El Paso, a team that has established itself as one of the best in the WSHL.

“We’ve developed a good rivalry with them,” Ritchie said. “They are a tough team and will play physical and with intensity, a lot like Fresno did. We have to match it just like we did in the last series.”

Ritchie is confident the Steelheads can rise to the occasion as they take aim at a title.

“We’re focused this week and we know we have to play our best,” Ritchie said. “It should be a great series. Our guys are ready to compete for a championship.”


Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Second half propels Ontario Avalanche uphill in Western Division

Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

Deep Long Beach Bombers squad moves up in division

Western States Hockey League: Second half propels Ontario Avalanche uphill in Western Division

Western States Hockey League: Second half propels Ontario Avalanche uphill in Western Division

By Brian Lester

The Ontario Avalanche were a much better hockey team in the second half of the Western States Hockey League season. They stormed through the month of January, winning 10 of 12 games to get themselves back on track. Western States Hockey League,WSHL,Ontario Avalanche,USA Junior Hockey

While that momentum slowed a bit in February, head coach Chris Shaw was pleased with where his team stood going into the postseason. Ontario finished 22-15-4-2 and in fourth place in the Western Division. That put the team at home for the division quarterfinals. They won Game 1, 4-0, over the Las Vegas Storm.

“We’ve managed to turn it around over the last month and a half or so,” Shaw said. “But the adversity we have gone through has been a good thing. I think we have handled it well.”

Antoine Maillard was the regular season leader in points for the Avalanche. He came through with 31 goals and 36 assists for 67 points. Mailliard had a goal and an assist in the first playoff game. He was one point ahead of Michael Thomas, who tallied 28 goals and dished out 38 assists for 66 points. Thomas scored a goal in Game 1 against the Storm.

During the regular season, Zechariah Roberts had 22 goals and 38 assists (60 points). Nick Anderson also shined, racking up 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 regular season points.

“It took us time to gel as a team because we do have a lot of older players and some of those guys weren’t getting as many minutes as they were used to,” Shaw said. “But they’ve really come together as a team. They understand it’s important to have four good lines if you want to win games.”

Ontario is hoping to play at a high level in the postseason after making a run to the conference finals last year.

“I’d like to think we can be one of the better teams in the playoffs,” Shaw said. “We have good depth and this is probably the best roster I’ve had in my time here. We have the talent to make noise in the playoffs. It’s just a matter of playing our best.”

Watch the Avalanche and all of the WSHL playoff action live online at www.FastHockey.com (subscription fees apply).


Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

Deep Long Beach Bombers squad moves up in division

Our December 2014 cover feature: An Old West Shootout

Western States Hockey League: Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

Western States Hockey League: Casper Coyotes fight to maintain first in division

By Brian Lester

The Casper Coyotes are in a great position in the Western States Hockey League standings.

Through 36 games, the Coyotes were 26-8-2, good enough for first place in the Mountain Division.

Coyotes head coach John Ambrefe said the success is attributed to the work the team put in during the off-season to put the roster together.

“We did a great job of recruiting,” Ambrefe said. “We were able to find great players and, while it can take time for a team to mesh, we were able to make strides right away and have had a lot of players step up.”

Casper has been sharp offensively, scoring 139 goals in its first 36 games.

Viktor Thim has paved the way, racking up 25 goals and dishing out 30 assists in 34 games. Kasper Elo has come up big as well, tallying 19 goals and 33 assists in 31 games.

Erik Stenbacka has been instrumental to the Coyotes’ success as well. He has come through with 20 goals and 29 assists in 36 games.

“At one point, we had three of the top five scorers in the league,” Ambrefe said. “We’ve done a good job of moving the puck and guys are stepping up and making plays.”

Casper’s goaltending situation is solid as well. Rikard Mutschin has played in 17 games and owned a goals against average of 2.03. Alexandre Lussier has played in 19 games and has fashioned a 2.68 GAA.

“Rikard is a very good goaltender. He’s very smooth and moves well from side to side,” Ambrefe said. “Alexandre has really stepped up too and has played very well.”

Ambrefe is looking forward to seeing the Coyotes continue to build momentum and be ready for a postseason run.

“We just have to continue to do what we have done and not let the pressure get to us,” Ambrefe said. “I want the players to have fun and be ready to compete every night.”


Read past Western States Hockey League articles in our archives:

Deep Long Beach Bombers squad moves up in division

Ogden Mustangs deep in experience for 2013-14

Expectations high for Colorado Evolution in first year