The puck dropped on the 2017-18 ECHL season Friday night, as the Wichita Thunder looked to erase a disappointing campaign from last season and get this year off on the right foot. Thanks to a stellar performance by Joel Rumpel who made 35 saves, the Thunder pulled off the 4-2 victory over the Indy Fuel. Two players from last year’s squad had a huger night for the team. Matt DeBlouw netted two goals for Wichita and Zach O’Brien had two assists in the victory.
The Thunder had the first big scoring chance of the game about four minutes into the contest. Louick Marcotte made a great pass across to Mark MacMillan, but Indy goalie Collin Delia came up with a great stick save to stop the deflection.
A little over three minutes later it would be the Fuel that looked like they were going to take the lead. Mark Rupert was set up right in front of the net, but Joel Rumpel made a nice save to keep it scoreless. At the 9:20 mark, the Fuel moved in on a two on none break, and looked like they would get a golden chance for a goal, but Travis Brown caught up to the Indy player carrying the puck and was able to knock it into the corner, disrupting the chance. A minute later Rumpel would deliver an enormous save. Matt Johnson carried the puck down the left side moving in from the face-off circle uncontested. He fired a slapshot that the Wichita netminder grabbed out of the air with a fantastic glove save about two feet off the ice.
That was huge because, at the 13:24 mark, Matt DeBlouw gave his team their first lead of the 2017-18 season. Kyle Platzer was able to keep the puck in the Indy end, then moved in on net, looking to pass. When the lane was not open, he fired a shot that Delia saved, but the rebound bounced right out to DeBlouw who directed the puck right back on net and in for his first goal of the year.
After a tight first period, the scoring ramped up in the second. After DeBlouw took a high-sticking penalty at 3:07, the Indy Fuel would tie the score 26 seconds later. Cam Reid passed to Geoff Walker, who was left alone in front of the net. His initial shot was saved by the Wichita netminder, but he corralled his own rebound and put it in for a goal to tie the score.
At the 4:05 mark it looked like the Fuel would take the lead when Ryan Rupert made a great pass across the ice in front of the goal to brother Matt who was wide open streaking down the slot. Rupert directed the puck into a wide open net, but Rumpel came from out of nowhere, diving to make the save and keep the game tied.
A little more than five minutes later, Kyle Platzer gave the Thunder back the lead. Zach O’Brien gained control of the puck near the left post and passed out to Platzer who was cruising down the slot on the right side. He one-timed the puck in for his first goal of the season.
Four minutes later the game saw what should have been a tying goal turn into a two goal Wichita Thunder lead. At 12:50, the puck was passed to Matt Rupert, who was all alone at the left post. He gained control of the puck and shot as Rumpel attempted to scramble back to make a play, but his shot simply slid through the crease, missing the wide open goal completely.
The Thunder gained control of the puck and went the other way. O’Brien carried the puck into the zone, looking to make a pass to DeBlouw. The defender blocked off the passing lane, but O’Brien slowed down, as the defender kept skating backwards. With a little more room, O’Brien passed to DeBlouw who buried the puck into the net for his second goal of the game. That made it 3-1.
Just 52 seconds later the lead became three. With Wichita controlling the puck in the Indy end, the puck was passed out to Travis Ewanyk, who blasted a shot from the right boards and into the goal for his first goal of the year.
Less than a minute later, the Fuel would make this a two-goal game again. Nick Bligh passed the puck to Zach Miskovic who was along the right boards. He fired a shot that trickled through the legs of the Wichita goalie and into the net to make it 4-2.
Into the third period the game would go where the Fuel would make this a one goal game. With Indy back on the power play, Geoff Walker passed the puck across the crease to Alex Wideman, who put the puck into the net to make it 4-3.
The Fuel were dominating the third period play, outshooting the Thunder 9-0 at one point. They continued to pressure the Wichita netminder and looked like they would get a golden opportunity to tie the score when Matt Rupert was sent on a breakaway, but Brown made a great defensive play, catching up to Rupert and knocking the puck away before the Indy winger could get off a shot.
With 2:28 left in the game, the Fuel pulled their netminder, but he continually had to return to the goal as Indy was unable to gain control over the next minute. With 91 seconds left, they put some pressure on the Thunder, but were unable to get off a shot and the Wichita Thunder would hang on for the 4-3 victory.
Joel Rumpel finished with 35 saves. Matt DeBlouw had 2 goals and Zach O’Brien had 2 assists for Wichita. Kyle Platzer had a goal and an assist. Alex Wideman and Geoff Walker each had a goal and an assist for the Fuel, and Cam Reid had 2 assists.
These two teams will square off again tomorrow. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier