Gillam Leads Thunder to Shootout Victory in Season Opener
It took nine months before the Wichita Thunder were finally able to get back on the ice, but the team made sure that their return was a glorious one, defeating the Tulsa Oilers in a shootout, 3-2. Mitch Gillam picked up where he left off before the pandemic, stopping 39 shots and Peter Crinella scored the only goal in the shootout.
Wichita looked like they would blow out Tulsa, jumping out to a 2-0 lead thanks to a pair of second period goals. The first came at 12:22. Johnny Curran made a nice play to steal the puck at center ice, sending him and Chantz Petruic on a two-on-one into the Tulsa end. After getting the Oilers defenseman to commit, Curran made a nice feed across to Petruic, who buried the puck past Devin Williams for the first goal of his professional career.
It looked like the teams would head to the second intermission with Wichita clinging to the one-goal lead, but Matteo Gennaro extended the lead to two thanks to his hustle. With the Thunder short-handed, the puck was knocked out to center ice. Gennaro outraced a Tulsa defender for the loose puck at center ice, then moved in on Williams, beating him over the blocker for his first goal of the season. That made it 2-0.
It looked like Wichita had this game all but locked up, but the Thunder could not hold the lead. Just before the five-minute mark, the Oilers were controlling the puck in the Wichita end. Mike McKee fed the puck to Adam Pleskach, who was camped near the front of the net. He beat Gillam down low to cut the deficit to one.
The Oilers had the Thunder pinned deep in their own end. They were peppering Gillam, who would make 15 saves in the final period. However, with a little less than eight minutes left in the period, Tulsa tied the score. Darby Llewellyn fed the puck to Gregg Burmaster near the front of the net. He fired a shot that found the back of the net to tie the score at two.
Tied at two, the game went to overtime. Both teams had their opportunities, but Williams and Gillam each made big saves to keep the score tied. That sent the game to a shootout.
Crinella went first for Wichita. He beat Williams just under the cross bar to put his team on top. That left the game in Gillam’s hands. He stoned both Charlie Sampair and Kevin Domingue before stopping Pleskach’s attempt to give the Thunder the victory. It was the first shootout victory for the Thunder since February 20, 2019.
Gillam stopped 39 shots. No Thunder player had more than one point in the game.
Wichita is now off until the day after Christmas when they will take on the Kansas City Mavericks. Game time is scheduled for 7:05.
By Robert Pannier