With Wichita fans crushed by the loss of the Wichita State basketball team in the NCAA tournament earlier in the day, fans were looking for a lift, and the Wichita Thunder provided that, defeating the Rapid City Rush on the road, 3-2. Ralph Cuddemi and Mark MacMillan each had two points, and Nick Riopel made 33 saves in the win. The victory extended the Thunder’s lead over the Allen Americans to four in the Mountain Division.
The Rush put the pressure on right from the outset, and that resulted in a huge 2-on-1 break 3:08 into the contest. The pass came right to Andrew Radjenovic, who had what looked like a for sure goal, but Thunder goalie Nick Riopel made a great glove save and covered up to force a faceoff.
The first period would see a lot of great end to end action, but both Riopel and Rapid City goalie Adam Vay played exceptionally well. The frame ended with the Rush leading in shoots 12-11, and the home team dominated the shots early in the second, taking the first five shots of the period. However, it would be the Wichita Thunder would get on the board first.
At 4:44 of the frame, Jeremy Beaudry fired a shot from the point that Ralph Cuddemi tipped in for his team leading 27th goal of the season. That made it 1-0 Wichita.
A minute later it looked like the Thunder would extend their lead to two. Dyson Stevenson had a point blank shot that Vay made a great save on, but the rebound came right back to him, giving him another great chance. The Rush goalie came up big once again, stopping the rebound and covering up to keep it a one goal game.
At 14:19 of the second, the Thunder got a huge break. Moments after Cuddemi hit the cross bar with a shot, the Rush put the puck in their own net to make it 2-0. Ryan Van Stralen was credited with the goal, his fifth of the season.
It did not take long for the Rush to respond. Just 1:36 after the own goal, Radjenovic passed the puck to Peter Sivak, who fired a wrist shot over the blocker of Riopel for his 22nd goal of the year. That made it 2-1.
The momentum quickly shifted to Rapid City and they would tie the score with 1:03 left in the second. Jack Walker passed the puck to Radjenovic near the far boards. He fired a shot that somehow found a way over the shoulder of the Wichita goalie and into the net for his 10th goal of the year.
The game went to the third with the Rapid City Rush controlling play. They looked like they would take the lead a little over a minute into the period. Stephen Hrehoriak fired a shot that Riopel made a nice save on, but the rebound came right to Andrew Miller at the far post, who looked like he had a wide open net to shoot into. However, Riopel came across the crease quickly to make a great save with his body and keep the score tied.
That proved to be huge, as the Wichita Thunder would retake the lead about five minutes later. Cuddemi fired a shot that hit off the skate of Mark MacMillan and into the goal. It was MacMillan’s 18th goal of the year and second in as many games. That gave MacMillan and Cuddemi each a goal and an assist in the contest.
The Rush would take the final six shots of the game and would put 35 total shots on net, but would not be able to find the equalizer. The Thunder would win 3-2, giving them 72 points.
These two teams will square off again Saturday night. The puck drops at 8:05 Wichita time.
By Robert Pannier