By Grace Mello / USPHLPremier.com
Fresno Monsters (1) vs. Las Vegas Thunderbirds (2)
All games at Gateway Ice Center
Game 1: Thursday, March 9, 7:45 p.m. PST
Game 2: Friday, March 10, 6 p.m. PST
Game 3: Saturday, March 11, 5 p.m. PST (if necessary)
These two teams have been neck and neck all season long and will battle for the National Championship bid. This season, Las Vegas (34-9-3) is 4-2-1 against Fresno, who finished 38-7-1.
This heated rivalry began with a 4-2 Thunderbirds win at the Las Vegas Showcase in late December. In the New Year, the two again faced each other for three games. Tthe Monsters earned a home series win with scores of 8-4, 5-4, and 3-4. Coming back at the end of January, the Thunderbirds earned a home series win of their own with scores of 2-3, 4-3, and 7-3.
This is the third year in a row that Las Vegas and Fresno find themselves in the Pacific Division Final. In 2022 Fresno beat Las Vegas with two decisive wins, and in 2021 the Monsters knocked the Thunderbirds out with a 7-2 win.
Coming off of their quarterfinal sweep of San Diego, Monsters head coach Daylon Mannon shares with us his thoughts.
“Obviously a good weekend from our team getting the two wins and moving onto the second round,” he said. “But I think there are some adjustments to be made heading into this next weekend and that’s something we will be working on in the next few practices.”
With a bit of a slow start, Fresno used the momentum from the end of Game 1 to push them to take Game 2 against San Diego. Coach Mannon tells us that the Monsters have character, and it shows.
“I think scoring with eight seconds remaining in the first game to tie it and then going on to win it in overtime showed a lot about our team and the character we have,” Mannon said. “I believe that was a big boost into the next game to eventually earn the series sweep over San Diego.”
With rivalry tension high, both teams know what they’re up against and what is on the line.
“Vegas is obviously where they are for a reason. They are a good hockey team and we have had a lot of battles this year playing seven games against them. It’s going to be an exciting weekend,” added Coach Mannon.
He adds “Just like our first weekend we have to play our game, play the right way, and play for the logo. I believe in everyone in that locker room and they deserve to be playing for a division title.”
Home ice seems to be a big advantage for Fresno. Mannon credits the Monster fans for their dedication and loyalty all season long.
“I know the boys can’t wait to play in front of the fans. Our fans deserve it more than anyone, they have been electric all season long and I can’t wait to see what they bring for our rivals this weekend,” he added.
Also coming off of their quarterfinal sweep, Thunderbirds General Manager and Coach Adam Bonaldi tells us that they are ready to take on Fresno.
“Here we go again. Round 3 of Fresno vs. Vegas to see who goes to Nationals. We have always known that our road to Nationals will most likely have Fresno standing in the way,” he shares. Bonaldi tells us that this 2022-23 team is like no other T-Birds squad that went before.
“I believe this is the most balanced T-Bird team we have ever had,” he added. “We are a deep team, with a strong offensive mind, D-core and solid goaltending.”
While Fresno has home ice advantage, the Thunderbirds are up for the challenge.
“It is always a challenge to go on the road and play Fresno, but I believe we are up for the task,” he said. “It is very likely that this will be one of the most competitive series in all of the USPHL Playoffs. I can’t wait to watch, even as a fan.”