With their last home game of the season on Tuesday, the Wichita Thunder were seeing their chances of reaching the playoffs slowly dwindling away. They had lost their previous six games, and had their dreaded rivals and the team they were trailing by two points in the Mountain Division, the Allen Americans, coming to town. It looked bleak, but thanks to a goal and an assist by Ralph Cuddemi and Chad Butcher coupled with outstanding goaltending by Shane Starrett, the Thunder pulled out the 2-1 victory, moving them into a tie for
third with Allen.
After a scoreless first period, the Thunder would take the lead at 4:24 of the second. Travis Brown passed the puck to Ralph Cuddemi, who fed the puck to Chad Butcher in the slot. Butcher buried the one-timer past Jake Paterson for his 10th goal of the year to give Wichita a needed lead.
The lead would become two a little less than five minutes later, when it was Butcher’s opportunity to return the favor. The forward made a nice pass across to Cuddemi, who was streaking down the slot. He redirected the shot into the net to beat the Allen goalie to make it 2-0. That was the 31st goal of the year for Cuddemi, who leads the team in goals and points (62).
Following the goal, the Allen Americans took control of the game, taking 12 of the next 13 shots. That included a great opportunity when Jared Bethune had a breakaway, but Shane Starrett came up with a great pad save to deny him the scoring chance.
The ice seemed tilted against the Thunder, but they were almost able to make this a three goal lead with a little over a minute left in the period. Ryan Van Stralen took a shot that Paterson saved, but the rebound fell right in front of the net. Dyson Stevenson was right on the doorstep, but he could not get his stick on the puck and the Americans goalie was able to cover up to force a faceoff.
In the third, the Thunder looked like they might have extended the lead to three at 11:10 of the frame. Ralph Cuddemi made a great steal while his team was short-handed and headed the other direction. He made a great move and looked like he scored when it appeared that Paterson had carried the puck across the goal line, but the referee waved it off.
That proved to be huge as a minute later Allen scored just as the power-play ended. The puck was dumped in to the Thunder end by Miles Liberati. The puck took a bad bounce and came out to Zach Pochiro near the blueline. He fired a shot which somehow found its way through the legs of Starrett and into the goal for his 18th of the year.
The Americans put 17 shots on net in the second and were putting a great deal of pressure on Starrett and the Thunder in the third. With their goalie pulled, they had a golden chance with 42 seconds left in the contest when Dalton Thrower had two point blank shots right in front of the Wichita netminder, but Starrett denied both. Wichita killed off the final seconds to earn the victory. Starrett finished with 37 saves.
The 2-1 win moved the Wichita Thunder into a tie for third place with the Allen Americans. The Tulsa Oilers were off today, and are now three points behind both teams. The Thunder will head to the road this weekend with contests against the Colorado Eagles on Friday and Saturday. They must win one of those games to assure themselves a playoff spot.
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier