Score By Periods Shots on Goal Pen - Min Power Play New Mexico 0 - 1 - 0 -- 1 6 - 2 - 7 -- 15 8 - 16 1 - 4 Utah State 2 - 2 - 3 -- 7 10 - 22 - 14 -- 46 5 - 10 2 - 7
Entering the RMCHA tournament, the Utah State Aggies seemed to be the favorites. They had closed the season strong, taking three of the last four league points from Weber State to finish a game behind the Wildcats. The University of New Mexico Ice Wolves had qualified for the playoffs in their inaugural season thanks to weekend sweep of Utah which finished their home schedule. Utah State had taken all three games from the Wolves in the regular season, including a 14-3 manhandling at the Weber Ice Sheet, site of Thursday night's playoff game. So, after Weber demolished Provo 19-1 in the other first-round game, the Aggies seemed poised to blow out their visitors from Albuquerque.
But the Ice Wolves did their best to protect goaltender Jimmy Murphy in the first period. Despite a fair amount of Utah State attack time, only 10 Aggie shots went on goal in the opening stanza, with easily that number blocked in front of Murphy. The game was scoreless for the first 18 minutes, despite a Kelly Froer shot that got through Murphy in the opening minutes, causing the goal light to go on in error as the puck went wide of the net, and a Nate Anderson shot off the outside of UNM's right post in the second half. Utah State got a power play off of a Joe Tixier slashing penalty at 13:25, and moved the puck well, but Murphy stymied their best scoring chance by squeezing his pads on a shot from the doorstep. The Aggies finally got on the board with 91 seconds left in the period with Ian Tracy, Anderson and Kevin Ten Eyck lined up left to right in front of the UNM goal; Ten Eyck put the pass inside the top corner of the cage. Just over a minute later, USU struck again, with Tracy firing a pass to Anderson from behind the goal line to make the score 2-0 Utah State after one.
UNM spent most of the second period killing off four minor penalties; Utah State converted on arguably the weakest call of the four when Jeff Bigelow behind the net fed Alan Babicky, who went upstairs on Murphy to put USU up 3-0 four minutes in. Just 19 seconds later, Bigelow, sliding towards the net, redirected a Ryan Keys pass past Murphy for the fourth USU goal. The Aggies continued to swarm the net all period, putting 22 shots on Murphy, but the UNM backstop saved 20 of them, and also broke up a number of scoring chances with poke-checks. New Mexico's only power play of the period came when Billy Cottle broke up an Aaron Sutliff pass with his mask, then took the puck into the USU zone, forcing Sutliff to haul him to the ice. Just 9 seconds into the resulting power play, Curt Peterson snuck a pass from the right side boards between the right post and Quincy Martin's left leg. It was one of only two shots on goal for New Mexico in the second and it trimmed the Utah State lead to 4-1.
Chad Linville extended that margin to 5-1 in the third minute of the final period, and USU added the knockout blow on the power play under five minutes later. With Edgar Solis already in the box for roughing, Tixier took his third slashing penalty of the game, and it took only nine seconds for the Aggies to score a classic 5-on-3 goal: Tracy, high on the left side, sent the puck over to Keys in the right faceoff circle, who passed it across to Anderson waiting on the doorstep to deposit it into the empty side of the cage. UNM had a couple of scoring opportunities on the power play midway through the period, but Tracy closed the scoring with a great individual effort, scoring in close on a shorthanded 1-on-3. An apparent eighth Utah State goal was waved off because Babicky was in the crease.
The 7-1 victory advances Utah State to the winners' bracket final with Weber State at 11:30 Friday morning, after New Mexico plays Provo in the first elimination game at 8am.