The Fresno Monsters lost two of their three games at the Western States Shootout in Las Vegas prior to the holiday break, but four wins in five games prior to that keeps them within five points of the first-place Long Beach Bombers.
Fresno’s showcase opened with a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Mountain Division leaders, the Ogden Mustangs, but the Monsters bounced back with a 4-0 win over the Seattle Totems the next day. Max Karlenzig posted his first shutout of the season against the Totems, 30-save effort, and Cole Beckman chipped in a pair of goals in the win.
Fresno had stopped off in Southern California on their way to Vegas, picking up wins over Ontario and Valencia, so they were playing their fourth game in five days when they closed the showcase with a 10-2 loss to the Oklahoma City Blazers.
Heading into the second half, Petr Phillippov and Dustin Truex are tied for the team lead with 17 goals apiece, and the acquisition of Jeremy Velazquez from Cheyenne has added a dimension to the Fresno attack. Five of his nine points since joining the team have come on the power play.
Karlenzig (3.03/.914) has played very well, but Fresno could use more from NAHL veteran Tyler Mathews who has allowed five goals in three of his last five appearances and carries a .871 save percentage. Take out a 30-save shutout of the Southern Oregon Spartans on December 9 and his season save percentage drops to .853.
Despite losing all three of their games against top competition at the WSHL Showcase, the Bellingham Blazers have to be feeling pretty good about their first-half performance. The Blazers hold a 17-point lead at the top of the Northwest Division despite earning zero of nine possible points in Las Vegas.
At the showcase, the Blazers lost to the Utah Outliers, 8-2, before falling to the Oklahoma City Blazers in a competitive game by a 5-3 final.
In the loss to Oklahoma City, Bellingham trailed 4-1 before getting back within a goal with 2:52 to go in the game. OKC sealed the win with an empty-net goal with just 1.6 seconds left on the clock.
The Blazers offense had a quiet day in the team’s third and final game in Vegas. Bellingham managed just 19 shots in a 4-0 shutout loss to the El Paso Rhinos to cap off their games at the event.
Bellingham has an exciting series on tap this weekend in Fresno against the Monsters. The three-game set, which kicks off on Thursday night, will be played at Selland Arena, a 7,600-seat venue located in the heart of downtown Fresno.
Looking ahead, the Blazers have dominated Northwest Division opponents this season outside of a four-game losing streak to Seattle.
Bellingham’s biggest test in the second half of the regular season is likely to be the Long Beach Bombers, who the Blazers will host in a two-game series on March 2-3. The Bombers lead the Western Division, and will serve as an excellent pre-playoff test for the Blazers.
---Jared Tennant for Harrington Sports Media