Colorado Eagles in the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs. There was a lot of question marks for the Thunder entering the series, but no more so than in net, where Shane Starrett would be the No. 1 goaltender despite winning just one of his last seven starts. Starrett proved to be absolutely brilliant, making 37 saves. However, Wichita generated very little offense, and that came back to haunt them as the Colorado Eagles drew first blood when J.C. Beaudin scored a short-handed goal in overtime to give his team the 2-1 win.
It was a slow start to the game as each team was a little tentative with their forecheck, not wishing to make a mistake. At 5:50, the Colorado Eagles had a great chance to take the lead. Jake Marto fired a shot that Thunder goalie Shane Starrett saved, but the rebound came right to Brady Shaw who was standing wide open in front of the net. He had Starrett out of position, but put the puck wide of the net to keep it scoreless.
That proved to be enormous as a little less than two minutes later the Wichita Thunder took the lead. Etienne Boutet fired a shot that Joe Cannata saved, but the rebound came right to Lane Bauer, who put it up high and into the net to make it 1-0. Steven Iacobellis earned an assist on the goal, his first point since returning from an injury that kept him off the ice for nearly five months.
Less than a minute later, the Eagles would be on the power-play looking for the equalizer. They had a great set up right off, where the puck was passed down low. The Eagles forward dished it to Joey Ratelle, who was coming down the slot. He fired a one-timer that Starrett kicked away.
With just one second left in the period, the Eagles nearly tied the score. A bad turnover gave Ryan Olsen the puck in front of the Thunder net, but Starrett spread eagle to make a great save to keep the puck out of the net as the horn sounded.
The Eagles had dominated much of the first period, holding the Thunder to just 4 shots. They would continue to put the pressure on in second, and that resulted in a great scoring chance for Colorado. At 3:38, Gabriel Verpaelst went on an end-to-end rush. He sped past the Wichita defender and in on net, looking to find an opening near the right post. Starrett kicked out his leg to make the save, but the rebound came right back to Verpaelst who put the rebound back in on
goal, but Starrett got his pad in front of the puck again, keeping his team up by one.
At 9:50, the Eagles had another great chance. Michael Joly carried the puck down the boards into the Thunder end. He made a pass across to Matt Register who was cruising down the slot. Register tipped the puck up high, but the Wichita netminder got his body into position to make the save.
Colorado was just dominating the second period, but Shane Starrett was having the game of his life. With 1:32 left in the second, Ryan Harrison passed the puck from down near the goal line across the crease to a wide-open Olsen, who blasted a one-timer, but the Wichita Thunder netminder quickly slid across to make the save and deny the opportunity.
The Colorado Eagles were absolutely dominating this contest, outshooting the Thunder 23-6 through the first two periods, however, it was Shane Starrett who was keeping his team on top. The Wichita netminder had eight highlight reel saves through the first two periods.
The Thunder had a golden opportunity to extend their lead a little over two minutes into the third. A great pass came from Cam Reid behind the net to Ralph Cuddemi in front. He fired the one-timer but Cannata made a nice pad save.
With a little less than nine minutes left in the game, the Eagles would tie the score on the power-play. Joly fired a shot that Starrett saved, but the puck came right back to Drayson Bowman, who put the puck up high and in for his first goal of the playoffs.
Into overtime the game went, where Joey Ratelle nearly won it 1:20 into the extra frame. A great pass gave him the puck at the Wichita blue line, sending him in on a breakaway. Ratelle swept in front of the net, looking to go over the leg of Starrett on the backhand, but the netminder followed it all the way and kicked it away to keep the overtime period going.
The Thunder had a big chance when a slashing penalty gave them the man advantage, however, it would be the Colorado Eagles that would take advantage. At the 5:23 mark, Register intercepted a pass in his own end and made a great pass to J.C. Beaudin, sending him in on a breakaway. He moved to his forehand, then went to the backhand, putting the puck up and over Starrett for the game-winner. That gave the Eagles the 2-1 victory.
Despite taking the loss, Shane Starrett was absolutely brilliant in net. The Thunder netminder made 37 saves. Matt Register had 2 assists for the Colorado Eagles.
The Wichita Thunder will look to even the series tomorrow night in Game 2. The puck drops at 7:05
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier