Wichita Thunder Tame Brampton Beast, 5-2
In the last three games the Wichita Thunder had to rally from two goal deficits in all three contests to gain points, finishing with two overtime wins and a shootout loss. They have proven to be the kings of the comeback, but no need to get the heart pumping late in this one. On this night, Wichita would jump out to the early 2-0 lead, and cruise to an impressive 5-2 victory.
Getting off to a slow start had been an issue of late, but in this contest it was the Thunder who took control from the opening face-off. RG Flath opened the scoring for the visitors with his 12th goal of the season 10:07 into the contest. The Thunder were on the power-play when Mike Wilson took a shot that Brampton goalie Ryan DeMelo saved, but Flath was right there to put the rebound in and give Wichita the early lead.
Justin Bernhardt added his ninth goal of the season a little over seven minutes later. The center had been battling a bit of a bug all day, but gutted out his performance and was rewarded for his efforts. The puck was being battled for along the side of the net when a rebound kicked out to Bernhardt who shot it right between DeMelo’s legs for the 2-0 lead.
The first period ended with Wichita holding the two-goal lead, and they were clearly dominating every facet of the contest. The Thunder outshot the Beast 16-3 in the first period, and were winning the battles for the puck at every turn. Brampton seemed a little off, and Wichita was more than happy to take advantage.
The Beast returned to the ice for the second period and were much more energized. They were dominating play early in the period and their tenacity paid off when Bobby Hughes took a wrist shot from the right face-off circle that Thunder goalie Grant Rollheiser couldn’t stop. It was Hughes ninth goal of the year.
Wichita tightened up their defense and began to take the play to Brampton. Kurtis Bartliff restored the two-goal lead when he simply outmuscled the defender on his way to the net and scored at 10:38 of the period for his third goal of the year. That seemed to suck the life out of the building.
The second period ended with Wichita up 3-1, and they dominated much of the second period in the same way they had the first. The Beast were outshot 9-5 in the period, making the shot advantage 25-8 in favor of Wichita after two periods.
The Thunder grabbed a 4-1 lead early in the third period when Nikita Kashirsky scored his 15th goal of the year on the power-play. The play was setup by a heads-up play by Eric Meland who dove across to the left boards to keep the puck in the Beast end. Meland then passed the puck to Todd Hosmer, who made a brilliant pass across the slot to Kashirsky who buried it for the three-goal lead.
Brampton would cut the deficit to two with 9:13 left in the game. The Thunder were about to receive a penalty, and with the delayed call the Beast added an extra attacker. Matthew Malone battled for the loose puck in front of the goal and knocked it in for his 10th goal of the season.
With three minutes left in the game and the Beast on the power-play, Brampton pulled DeMelo for an extra skater. Hosmer was able to gain possession of the puck and fired it into the empty-net for his 19th goal of the year, clinching the 5-2 win.
A key for the game is that the Wichita Thunder took full advantage of their power-play chances. They were 2-2 on the game, while Brampton was 0-2. The power-play has been on fire for the Thunder of late, going 11-31 over the last seven games, a 35.5 percent clip. They have also had two power-play goals in each of the last four contests.
Kashirsky increased his point streak to nine games, and Flath’s goal tied him for eighth-place on the team’s all-time goal scoring list.
The win moved Wichita a point ahead of Rapid City for third in the Central Division of the ECHL. This also moved them into a tie for seventh in the Western Conference with the Utah Grizzlies.
The Wichita Thunder (28-21-2-6) next take on the Tulsa Oilers in an East Coast Hockey League clash Friday night in Oklahoma. Tulsa (28-25-1-3) is fifth in the Central Division, four points behind Wichita.
By Robert Pannier