Weninger Outduels Christopoulos in Thunder Victory, 2-1
It was a great goaltending battle at INTRUST Arena on Sunday afternoon as the Wichita Thunder defeated the Indy Fuel, 2-1. Evan Weninger led the way for the Thunder, stopping 30 of the 31 shots he faced. Fuel netminder Billy Christopoulos was nearly as good, knocking aside 31 of 33 attempts, but that was not enough to outduel Weninger. Stefan Fournier scored the game-winner, putting in his fourth goal of the year.
Wichita had not been on the ice January 10 as the last four contests had been postponted. The long layoff had Wichita a little sluggish early on, as they were outshot by the Fuel 12-9 and gave up several great scoring opportunities in the first period.
The biggest of these occurred with a little less than four minutes left in the first. Indy created a turnover in the Thunder end and a quick pass found Joe Sullivan alone at the side of the net. Weninger was completely out of position, but was somehow able to get his paddle in the way to block the wide-open shot, keeping the game scoreless.
The two goalies battled shot for shot in the second. Wichita had a huge opportunity when the Fuel earned a pair of minors within the first three minutes of the second. Wichita did absolutely nothing with the first power-play, but had two great opportunities on the second. At 3:42, Bobby McMann fired a shot that Christopoulos stopped. However, McMann found the puck back on his stick nine seconds later, firing a wrist shot that the Indy goaltender snagged and held onto.
The Fuel had controlled play through much of the first 40 minutes, outshooting Wichita, 21-17. However, neither team could find the back of the net. That changed just two minutes into the third. Jared Thomas gained control of the puck and created separation between him and the Thunder defender. He then fired a wrist shot that beat Weninger between the legs for his second goal of the year.
The way that Christopoulos was playing, this game looked like it was over, but the Thunder tied the score less than two minutes later. Brayden Watts carried the puck into the Indy end and then left the drop pass for Garrett Schmitz. Schmitz fired a wrist shot that Christopoulos had not chance on, giving him his first goal of the year.
Just after the five-minute mark, Fourier game his team the lead. With the face-off in the Fuel end, the draw was back to Jacob Graves, who passed it to the slot to Fournier. The Thunder winger buried the one-timer, giving his team the 2-1 lead.
The Thunder looked to extend their lead, earning several chances, but the Indy netminder kept this a one-goal game. With about two minutes left in the game, the Fuel pulled their goalie looking for the equalizer, but Weninger stopped both shot attempts to seal Wichita the victory.
The victory moved Wichita to 7-2-1 (15 points), second in the Western Conference. The Thunder have won three games in a row and will look for their fourth straight win when they take on the Rapid City Rush in the first of a three-game set on Friday night. The puck drops at 7:05.
By Robert Pannier