After losing the last two games at home, the Colorado Eagles were hoping that Wichita would prove to be as friendly as it had been in the first two games of this Kelly Cup first round matchup. Thanks to three points by Michael Joly, the Eagles were able to win their third game on the road in this series, downing the Wichita Thunder 5-3 to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
As they have in five of the previous six games, the Wichita Thunder would take the lead 6:50 into the contest. Drayson Bowman took a high-sticking penalty at 6:13. The Thunder had trouble moving the puck out of their own end and into the Colorado zone, but Dyson Stevenson was able to gain control just inside the blue line. He made a great pass cross the ice to Mark MacMillan who was cruising down the left side. MacMillan made a great play to kick the puck off his skate and onto his stick, then fired a laser wrist shot that beat Lukas Hafner and Wichita led 1-0. That was the third goal of the playoffs for
The lead did not last long, however. A minute later, Michael Joly carried the puck down the left side boards. He dropped it back to J.C. Beaudin, who corralled the puck and moved in on the Thunder net. He used the Wichita defenseman to shield Shane Starrett, firing a wrist shot low and into the goal for his fourth of the playoffs.
The game remained tied entering the second, but the Colorado Eagles were able to use the man-advantage to take the lead. The Thunder had killed off 15 straight penalties, but that would come to an abrupt end. At 6:58, Matt Register passed the puck to Jake Marto just before he entered the Wichita end. Marto moved down the boards, then swept in toward the faceoff circle, wristing a shot five-hole and into the net for his first goal of the post-season.
Just as Colorado had responded quickly early in the game, the Wichita Thunder would do the same. A little over a minute after the Eagles scored, Jeremy Beaudry passed the puck to Evan Polei who carried the puck toward the boards. He made a great cross ice pass to Chad Butcher who was streaking down the slot. Butcher redirected the puck in for his first goal, and the game was tied.
With 1:55 left in the second period, the Eagles would retake the lead. It started back in the Colorado end when Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin attempted to fire a blast from the blue line, but his stick snapped. He tried to grab one as he went past his own bench, but was unable to do so. Ralph Cuddemi handed Crevier-Morin his stick, but left their forward with one less stick and the Eagles were able to quickly move the puck around. Ryan Harrison would pass to Michael Joly down low, who put the puck in for his second goal of the post-season.
The Eagles would soon find themselves short-handed. The Thunder were looking to set up in the Colorado end, but the defenseman fell down, allowing Ryan Olsen to take the puck and head the other direction on a breakaway. He looked to go up high, but Starrett made a great glove save to deny the chance.
The Thunder were putting the pressure on, but were coming up short, that is until there was 7:36 left in regulation. Ralph Cuddemi fired a shot that was saved by Joe Cannata. He got the rebound back and put it back on net but, once again, Cannata made the play. The puck then deflected off a skate and right to Evan Polei, who was able to get enough of it to put it back on goal. The puck crawled across the goal line, tying the score at three. That was Polei’s third goal of the post-season.
Wichita was fired up, but the Eagles would retake the lead with about 3:30 left in the game. Michael Joly’s pass across the crease somehow found its way through a Wichita defender and onto the stick of Joey Ratelle, who wristed a shot into the net for his second of the playoffs.
With 43 seconds left and the goalie pulled for Wichita, Matt Grabowsky would ice the game. Drayson Bowman made a great dump out pass, and Grabowsky outraced the Thunder defender for the puck, scoring his second. That made it 5-3 which was the final.
The victory gave the Colorado Eagles the first round series victory, 4-2. Michael Joly finished with a goal and 2 assists in the game, and Joey Ratelle and Matt Grabowsky each had a goal and an assist. Mark MacMillan had a goal and an assist for Wichita.
By Robert Pannier