Early Outburst Gives Allen Americans Win Over Wichita Thunder
Fans of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) have known the truth for some time. The Allen Americans are pretty good. There is a reason they have the best record in the league, and the Wichita Thunder got to see first-hand Sunday evening why this is so. Two first period goals got the Americans going early, and Allen rolled to a 6-4 win over the Thunder in Wichita, despite a late rally.
The Americans took command of the game early, scoring two goals in the final five minutes of the first period. Jamie Schaafsma opened the scoring when he tapped home his own rebound for his 13th goal of the season. Three minutes later Schaafsma fired a shot that Gary Steffes redirected past Thunder netminder Tim Boron to make it 2-0. It was Steffes’ 36th goal of the season, tops in the East Coast Hockey League.
The Thunder needed a spark coming out of the locker room following the first intermission, but it was Allen that got the scoring going in the second period. Aaron Gens scored on the power-play less than five minutes into the period to make it 3-0. Steffes, who would finish with three points on the night, set-up the goal, Gens’ eighth of the year.
Less the three minutes later Wichita responded, scoring two goals in less than a minute. Kevin Young took a two-minute penalty for hooking, and earned an additional two-minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for disputing the call of the referee. With the extended power-play the Thunder took advantage and did it in short fashion.
Mike Wilson got the Thunder on the scoreboard first when he was able to play the puck out of the air and knock it past Americans’ goalie Riley Gill for his eighth goal of the year. Fifty-two seconds later Eric Meland blasted a shot past Gill for his fifth goal on the season, and Wichita was right back in the contest.
The Thunder looked like they were going to make a run at Allen, but that euphoria was short-lived. Chad Costello scored his 29th goal of the season just 21 seconds after Meland’s talley, restoring the two-goal lead. That seemed to suck the life out of the Thunder and the home crowd.
Wichita looked like they may cut the deficit in half when Kirill Tulupov was awarded a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway. He took the puck at center ice and made a nifty move that caught Gill off-guard, but his shot hit off the post and bounced away to maintain the two-goal Allen lead. Fifteen seconds later Greger Hanson scored his 19th goal of the year for Allen, and the lead was back to three.
The third period started with Wichita looking to press the attack, but the Americans gave no room through the neutral zone. It looked like Allen had the game locked, but Nikita Kashirsky made a great move behind the net to maintain control of the puck, then went for the wrap-around. The puck spun through the five-hole on Gill and the Thunder were back within two.
The game was tense, as the Thunder feverishly tried to score again to make it a one-goal contest. Finally, with one minute left in the match, Ian Lowe managed to out-battle for a loose puck in the goal crease, and poked it home for his 17th goal.
The Thunder pulled Boron for the final minute looking for the equalizer, but Steffes ended the threat with his league-leading 37th goal into the empty net with 19 seconds left in the game to seal it. In the closing seconds a melee ensued. Three fights broke out and eight fighting majors were assessed to the two teams.
The Wichita Thunder had a season-high three goals on the power-play in a losing effort. The Americans also tallied three power-play goals. Danick Gauthier pushed his point streak to seven games (4G and 8A).
The Wichita Thunder (25-21-2-5) welcome the Rapid City Rush (27-25-1-3) on Wednesday night. The Thunder trail Rapid City by one point for fourth place in the Central Division, and are also one-point behind the Rush and Tulsa Oilers for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference.
By Robert Pannier