The Wichita Thunder power-play has been as cold as the temperature in the city of late, converting on just 2 of their last 27 opportunities entering Saturday night’s game against the Utah Grizzlies. Not only did the cold spell continue, as the Thunder were 0-3, but they yielded two short-handed goals in the Grizzlies 4-1 victory. Kevin Carr continued his dominance of the Wichita offense, allowing just one goal on 25 shots and Cliff Watson had 2 assists to lead Utah to victory.
At 9:03 of the first period, the Grizzlies would take the lead while short-handed. After Wichita won the faceoff in the Utah end, Ryan Olsen gained control of the puck and broke out of his own end with a full head of speed. He outraced the Thunder defender into the Wichita end heading for the goal. As he closed in to the side of Shane Starrett, he passed the puck to Chris Lebinger who tipped it in for his third goal of the season.
The Grizzlies would extend their lead to two thanks to an aggressive forecheck. After the Thunder were unable to clear the zone twice, Brad Navin was able to steal the puck from the Wichita defender, passing it back to the point. Brendan Harms passed the puck to Ryan Misiak who was working his way toward the goal. He went to the back-hand, beating Starrett to the glove side for his eighth goal of the year.
About four minutes into the second period, the Thunder would cut the deficit in half. Mark MacMillan passed the puck to Ralph Cuddemi in the slot area. He fired a wrist shot that Kevin Carr saved, but the puck slipped through, barely trickling over the goal line for his 13th goal of the year. Kevin Dufour earned the second assist giving him points in all 10 games as a Wichita Thunder.
At the 6:30 mark it looked like Wichita would tie the score. Evan Polei entered the zone on a two-on-one. He moved in on net, passing to Dyson Stevenson at the last moment, but Stevenson’s shot just caught the post and bounced out to keep Utah in front.
That would prove to be huge. With the Thunder on the power-play, Utah would add their second short-handed goal of the game. Sam Windle passed the puck out to Kyle Thomas who carried the puck into the Wichita end down the boards. He fired a wrist shot that beat the Thunder goalie over the glove hand just under the crossbar for his eighth goal of the year. That made it 3-1.
With three minutes left in the second, Misiak stole the puck from the Wichita defender at the Utah blue line, and headed the other way on a breakaway. He looked to go between the legs, but Starrett stoned him to keep it a two-goal game.
The breakaway save was a huge play, but a defensive lapse allowed the Grizzlies to extend their lead to three. Cliff Watson passed the puck across the crease to a wide-open Ryan Walters, who buried the puck for his 14th goal of the year. That made the score 4-1.
Kevin Carr won his 12th game of the season, making 25 saves. Cliff Watson had 2 assists for Utah. Kevin Dufour extended his point streak to 10 straight games in a Thunder uniform. The loss made Wichita 6-10-1 over their last 17 games.
The Wichita Thunder will now have a week off, welcoming the Colorado Eagles next Saturday in one of the last games they will play in Wichita. Colorado is joining the AHL next season. The faceoff is set for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier