The Wichita Thunder entered their contest against the Idaho Steelheads on a six-game winless streak (0-4-2), and it looked like that streak may reach seven when Idaho scored just 2:20 into the contest. However, the Thunder got goals from Ralph Cuddemi and Guillaume Lepine to go along with 32 saves from Nick Riopel to end the streak and send Wichita to the 3-2 victory. Cuddemi had a goal and an assist and Ryan Van Stralen added two assists for the Thunder.
The Thunder were looking to be much more physical early on, but it would be Idaho that would take the lead. A little over two minutes into the first, Eric Sweetman gained control of the puck and fired a shot on net that took an unlucky deflection off of a Wichita player and over the shoulder of Nick Riopel for his fifth goal of the season.
It would stay that way into the second when Ralph Cuddemi would tie the score. Ryan Van Stralen fired a shot on net that Cuddemi deflected past the Steelheads Phillippe Desrosiers for his team-leading 24th goal of the year.
Both goaltenders continued to make brilliant saves all night long, keeping the score tied into the second intermission, however, in the third period, the Wichita Thunder took their first lead of the game. Van Stralen won the draw to Cuddemi who made a brilliant lead pass to Guillaume Lepine streaking toward the Idaho end. Lepine fired a shot that beat the Idaho goalie for his fifth goal of the year to make it 2-1.
After giving up the bad break goal on the second shot he faced, Riopel was absolutely brilliant. He stopped 10 shots in the first period and had 19 saves through two periods. Clinging to the lead, Wichita leaned on thier goaltender who made a series of absolutely brilliant saves in the closing minutes of the game.
The three biggest saves came in the final 23 seconds of the contest. At 19:37, Jefferson Dahl fired a shot that Riopel made a great save on, but the rebound bounced right to Will Merchant, who put the puck right back in on net. However, the Thunder goalie did a complete splits to be able to stop the puck from getting across the goal line and covered up for the face-off.
Just before the buzzer sounded, Brady Brassart had another golden opportunity, as his wrist shot looked like it had the back of the net earmarked, but Riopel made an unbelievable save with his glove to keep the puck out of the net, preserving the victory.
The win allowed the Wichita Thunder to end their longest winless streak of the season. Ralph Cuddemi had a goal and an assist for the victors, and Ryan Van Stralen added two assists, giving him three points in his three games with the team. Nick Riopel continues to be brilliant in net for Wichita, making 32 saves. Phillippe Desrosiers was fantastic in net for Idaho, stopping 25 shots in loss.
The victory gives Wichita 66 points, putting them six points behind Idaho for the second best record in the Mountain Division. The team will welcome the Quad City Mallards to town on Wednesday night. Game time is scheduled for 7:05.
Featured Image by Ed Bailey
By Robert Pannier