Nick Bligh Leads Newcomers as Wichita Thunder Win, 6-3
If there is one thing that is true about Wichita Thunder head coach Malcolm Cameron, it is that he knows how to wheel and deal to help improve his team. Injuries and callups have necessitated making several deals already this season, and those deals have proven to be golden, no more so than Friday night as six players whose names were not on the roster when the season began each provided at least one point as the Wichita Thunder defeated the Quad City Mallards, 6-3. Nick Bligh led the newcomers with 2 assists and Shane Starrett continued his all-star season, making 27 saves in the victory.
The Mallards had a golden opportunity at the 4:12 mark of the period, when Sam Warning received the puck in the slot and had a point blank shot, but Shane Starrett made a nice kick save to keep the game scoreless.
Kevin Dufour nearly gave Wichita the lead about four minutes later. The forward came down the boards, and then used a burst of speed to get by a defender and move right in front of the Quad City net looking to tuck the puck through the pads of the Mallards goalie, but Matt O’Connor stood strong to block the attempt.
O’Connor made a huge save about seven minutes later. With Travis Ewanyk posting up near the goal like a power-forward in basketball, Nick Bligh passed it down low to him. Ewanyk moved the puck to his back-hand and tried to stuff it in, but the Mallards goalie kicked it away to keep the game tied at zero.
Wichita had their chances, but had come up empty. That changed when Ralph Cuddemi gave the Thunder the lead with 2:34 left in the first period. Jeremy Beaudry passed the puck to Cuddemi, who fired a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that beat O’Connor over his shoulder to make it 1-0. That was Cuddemi’s 11th goal of the year.
Exactly one minute into the second period, Quad City tied the score. Willie Raskob gained control of the puck along the boards in the Wichita end and passed it into the slot to Triston Grant who buried the one-timer to tie the score at one. It was the third goal of the season for Grant.
At about 4:30 it looked like Quad City would take the lead when Brayden Low gained control of the puck high in the slot area. His shot beat Shane Starrett, but hit off the crossbar and bounced out where it was cleared.
With about 11 minutes gone in the second and Wichita on a power-play, Matt Pohlkamp stole the puck from the Thunder player in the neutral zone and entered the zone on a breakaway, but Starrett made a great leg save to deny him a goal and keep the game tied.
The play continued back and forth for much of the period as neither team was able to generate much of a forecheck, but it would be the Wichita Thunder that would break the tie. With three minutes left in the second period, Ewanyk made a great run along the boards and into the Mallards end. He swept in front of the net and took a shot that O’Connor saved, but the rebound laid in front of the net and Colin Martin netted the goal in his first game with the Thunder.
Just 39 seconds later, Wichita extended the lead to two. Nick Bligh passed the puck to Chad Butcher, who was all alone at the right faceoff circle. Butcher cradled the puck on his stick and then wristed it over the Quad City goalie for his fourth goal of the year. That made it 3-1.
In the third, the Thunder extended the lead to three. At the 2:10 mark, Bligh had control of the puck in the high slot and passed it to Travis Brown, who blasted the one timer in for his sixth goal the year.
About two minutes later, the Mallards cut their deficit back to two. The Thunder defenseman lost the puck near his own end line, and Grego Nagy put it in for his first goal of the year.
The Thunder responded right away, scoring 26 seconds later, restoring the lead back to three, courtesy of another newcomer. Kevin Dufour, who has been absolutely brilliant for Wichita since being acquired, stole the puck and entered the Quad City end, firing a wrist shot that beat O’Connor, chasing the Mallards netminder from the game. The goal was Dufour’s seventh goal of the season, and gives him points in all five games since joining Wichita.
A bad giveaway gave the puck away inside the Thunder end, helping to make this a two goal game again. An errant clearing pass allowed Jake Bolton to gain control of the puck. He passed it quickly to Alex Globke, who passed it to Pohlkamp, who beat Starrett for his seventh goal of the year. That came at 8:31 of the third and made it 5-3.
Lane Bauer would seal the victory with an empty-net goal. The Mallards goalie left the ice for the extra attacker, and Wichita immediately gained control. Bauer finished it off with his seventh goal of the year.
Newcomers Chad Butcher (goal), Ralph Cuddemi (goal), Johnny Daniels (assist), Kevin Dufour (goal), and Colin Martin (goal) each added points. Nick Bligh had 2 assists. None of these players were with Wichita when the season began. Travis Brown had a goal and an assist and was plus-5 for the night, the highest total of any Thunder player in a single game this season. Shane Starrett made 27 saves for Wichita in winning his 11th game of the year. Matt Pohlkamp had a goal and an assist for Quad City.
The Thunder will take on Kalamazoo on Saturday night. The game is set for 7:05.
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier