The Wichita Thunder had earned points in each of the previous three games, yet they had been bittersweet as the team lost each of those contests in overtime, including a 4-3 loss to the Utah Grizzlies last Sunday. They looked to snap that run with a late morning affair against Utah on Tuesday, who entered the game with 13 points, four more than the Thunder. Three times the Wichita Thunder took the lead only to see the Grizzlies battle back to tie the score each time. Jake Marchment provided one of those tying goals and the game winner in the 5-4 Utah victory.
This was a very slowly developing contest early on as neither team had much of a scoring chance through the first eight minutes, but at the 8:52 mark, the Utah Grizzlies would take the lead. Cole Lily took a pass and split between two Thunder defensemen on his way toward the net. He moved to his forehand, but Stuart Skinner made a great pad save. However, the Wichita defenseman did not block out Caleb Herbert who was following the play. He put the rebound in for his 11th goal of the year to make it 1-0.
The lead did not last long, however, as Matt Schmalz tied the score 45 seconds later. Jakob Stukel gained control of the puck as he was down on one knee sliding down the slot, but still had the presence of mind to make a great pass to Schmalz who fired a wrist shot in for his first goal of the year.
Just 33 seconds later the Wichita Thunder took the lead. Pierre-Cedric Labrie set up behind the Utah net waiting for Steven Iacobellis to come down the slot. Iacobellis fought through a defender, then took the pass from Labrie, putting the puck between Joe Cannata’s legs for his second goal of the year.
The frantic pace continued as the Grizzlies would tie the score 20 seconds later. Ryan Misiak passed the puck to Tim McGauley, who beat Skinner with his fourth goal of the year.
Things settled down for about five minutes but, with a little over four minutes left in the first period, the Thunder would retake the lead. With the faceoff to the right of Cannata, Colin Larkin won the draw. Ralph Cuddemi scooped up the puck, then moved in front of the net where he beat Cannata with a wrist shot for his third goal of the year.
The Grizzlies had dominated play in the first, outshooting Wichita 17-9, but were trailing. At the 8:30 mark of the second it looked like they had tied the score when McGauley went in on a breakaway. He moved to his backhand, getting Skinner down on the ice and looked like he would tuck the puck under the Thunder netminder, but Skinner was able to push the puck away before it crossed the line to keep his team on top.
About three minutes later, Utah would finally tie the score. The Grizzlies were able to keep the puck in the Thunder end. Nolan DeJong passed the puck from the point down low to Ryan Walters. He made a great pass across the crease to Jake Marchment who buried the one time for his second goal of the year.
At 5:17 of the third period, the Wichita Thunder would take the lead for the third time in the contest. Schmalz passed the puck to Travis Brown at the point who moved in before firing a wrist shot that beat Cannata up high for his second goal of the year.
As they had done three times before, the Grizzlies would tie the score, this time just 22 seconds after Brown gave the Thunder the lead. Kevin Davis passed the puck to De Jong who fired a slap shot from the point that beat Skinner to tie the game at four.
With nine minutes left in the game, Ryan Misiak had a golden opportunity when a great outlet pass sent him in on a breakaway. However, Skinner coolly kicked the puck away to keep the score tied.
With 1:55 left in the game, Utah would retake the lead for the first time since the midway point of the first period. De Jong fired a shot from the point that went wide of the net, but Marchment scooped it up and put the puck in for his second goal of the game.
Matt Schmalz led the Wichita offense with a goal and an assist. Despite suffering his first loss of the season, Stuart Skinner made 35 saves for the Thunder. Jake Marchment had two goals for the victories Grizzlies. Taylor Richart and Ryan Misiak each had a pair of assists for Utah.
The Wichita Thunder continue their three game homestand against the Utah Grizzlies on Friday. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier