Fournier Shines in Milestone Contest; Thunder Win, 3-2
Stefan Fournier reached a major milestone on Friday evening, playing in his 200th career game in the ECHL. He found a great way to celebrate, scoring two goals , including the tying goal, as the Wichita Thunder defeated the Wheeling Nailers, 3-2. Evan Weninger stopped 36 shots to earn the victory. This was the first contest the Thunder had ever played in Wheeling.
Wheeling had the opportunities early on, outshooting Wichita 13-7 in the first. However, Weninger was on top of his game. Just before the four-minute mark, Matt Miller fired a shot from the point that the Thunder netminder saved, but the rebound bounced to the other side of the net, right onto the stick of Patrick McNally. He fired a one-timer looking for the near post, but Weninger quickly slid over and smothered the attempt.
Fournier got things going, scoring his 13th goal of the season with less than two minutes left in the first period. Anthony Beauregard intercepted a pass attempt just outside the Nailers zone. He moved in toward the last faceoff circle, then fired a perfect pass across the slot to the backdoor to Fournier who tipped it in to put Wichita on top, 1-0.
The second period was all Wheeling, as they outshot Wichita, 17-1. That helped lead to a tying goal at 14:57. Michael Joly carried the puck into the Wichita zone on a 3-on-1 break. He dished it across the slot to Patrick Watling, who blasted the one-timer by Weninger for his fourth tally of the year.
Wheeling had numerous other opportunities in this period to score, and it was only through the heroic efforts of Weninger that the game remained tied. The Nailers had no less than eight point blank shots on the Thunder netminder, coming away empty-handed each time.
In the third, Wheeling kept the pressure on and took the lead just before the five-minute mark. Nick Rivera intercepted and attempted clearing pass inside the Wichita zone, passing it back to Garet Hunt in the slot. Hunt fired a wrist shot just past the blocker for his first goal of the year.
The Nailers had their first lead of the game, but it did not last long. Just after the seven-minute mark Fournier delivered his second goal of the game. Patrick Parkkonen passed the puck to Fournier along the boards inside the Wheeling zone. He moved in, firing a wrist shot that was blocked by the defenseman, but it deflected right back to him. Fournier used the defenseman as a shield, firing a wrist shot that Nailers netminder Alex D’Orio never saw. That tied the score at two.
At 14:22, Spencer Dorowicz delivered the game-winner for Wichita. A great play by Brayden Watts set up the goal. With the puck loose in the high slot inside the Wheeling zone, Watts dove for the puck, battling with two Nailers defenseman for it while lying on his belly. Somehow, Watts came away with the puck, quickly firing a pass to Dorowicz who was standing alone in front of the net. He went to his backhand, lifting it over D’Orio for his second goal of the season.
Holding a one goal lead once again, Weninger stopped the next four shots he faced to preserve the victory. The Thunder goaltender stopped 36 of 38 shots, moving his record to 14-5-4. He now has a 2.61 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
The victory moved Wichita to 22-9-5. Their 22 victories are third most in the ECHL this season.
These two teams take to the ice again on Saturday. Game time is scheduled for 6:10 Wichita time.
By Robert Pannier