The Wichita Thunder were looking for a little momentum in their last home contest before heading to the road for the next three weeks. Thanks to two goals by Ryan Van Stralen, who scored two highlight reel goals, the Thunder downed the Quad City Mallards, 4-1. Nick Riopel continues to impress in net for the Thunder, stopping 27 shots.
Early the Quad City Mallards were getting great pressure in the Wichita end and that eventually resulted in a power-play opportunity which they would take full advantage of. At the 6:22 mark, Willie Raskob fired a shot from the point that Nick Riopel saved, but the rebound came right to Matt Pohlkamp, who put the rebound into the net for his 16th goal of the season. Nick Bligh earned the second assist on the play, earning a point in his first game after being dealt by the Thunder.
About 10 minutes into the game the Thunder got their first opportunity of the contest. Ralph Cuddemi fended off a defender and entered the Quad City end on a partial breakaway. He went to his backhand, looking to slide the puck between Eric Hartzell’s pads, but the netminder stood strong to stop the chance.
With 6:39 left in the first, a great pass set up the opportunity for the Thunder to tie the score. Dyson Stevenson battled for the puck along the left side boards near the goal line. He fired a beautiful cross ice pass to the Samuel Thibault at the point. Thibault corralled the puck and moved in about 20 feet from the net before firing a wrist shot that Hartzell made a save on, but Kevin Dufour put the rebound in for his 18th goal of the year to tie the score at one.
The Thunder took their first lead of the game at the 9:05 point in the second. Wichita attempted to clear the puck out of their own end, but it hit off a skate and came back to Ryan Van Stralen. The forward broke out of his end, dropping the puck back to Jeremy Beaudry, and then bursting past the defender on his way through the neutral zone. Beaudry passed the puck ahead to a streaking Van Stralen, who fired a wrist shot over the glove hand of the Mallards goalie and in for his second goal of the season.
With 7:30 left in the second, Wichita was on the power-play, but it was Quad City that almost came up with a big goal. Pohlkamp stole the puck near his blue line and headed down the right side on a breakaway. He fired a wrist shot that Riopel stopped with his glove, but it bounced out and on top of the net to keep the Thunder up by a goal.
The Wichita Thunder would extend their lead to two thanks to an unbelievable move by Van Stralen. With Wichita on the power-play, the forward split between two defenders entering the Quad City zone, then made a move to split between both defenseman giving him an open chance moving toward the net. He skated in and made a move to his left, putting the puck over the blocker of Hartzell for his second goal of the game. That made it 3-1.
An odd bounce allowed the Thunder to extend their lead to three. Dufour dumped the puck slowly down the boards into the Mallards end, and it took a weird bounce as it got the goal line, redirecting toward the net. Hartzell was heading behind the goal to make the play, and had to quickly change directions. Mark MacMillan swept in and picked up the loose puck, firing a shot that the Quad City goalie made an amazing play on just to get into position. However, Cuddemi was following the play and fired the rebound in for his team leading 25th goal of the year.
Ryan Van Stralen finished with 2 goals for the Wichita Thunder. Kevin Dufour and Ralph Cuddemi each had a goal and an assist, and Jeremy Beaudry had 2 assists. Nick Riopel continues to dominate in net, making 27 saves. Despite giving up four goals, Eric Hartzell played a great game in net for Quad City, making 38 saves.
The Wichita Thunder now head to the road for eight consecutive games. They start with two games against the Oilers in Tulsa beginning Saturday night. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier