BOISE, ID – The Wichita Thunder joined the ECHL in 2014 after their previous home, the Central Hockey League, folded the year prior. Wichita then played in the ECHL’s Central Division for three seasons before coming over to the Mountain Division in 2017. With all the movement in recent years, it’s no surprise that the Thunder have never played the Idaho Steelheads in Boise.
That all changed Friday night…and lo, a divisional rivalry was born.
Idaho and Wichita battled through 60 minutes of smash-mouth hockey at CenturyLink Arena last night, as the Steelheads snatched two crucial points against their new division foe with a 3-1 victory against the Thunder. Idaho goaltender Ryan Faragher stopped 32 of 33 shots on goal, carrying a shutout through 59 ½ minutes of gameplay before allowing a Jeremy Beaudry wrist shot to sneak by him at 19:37 in the third. Captain Jefferson Dahl, defenseman Joe Faust, and forward Henrik Samuelsson all netted goals for Idaho in the win. Wichita’s Beaudry tallied the only goal in the Thunder’s losing effort.
Faragher was acrobatic on a number of saves this evening, falling down in the splits to stop a couple of Wichita scoring chances, while sprawling for saves in other moments that would have made Hockey Hall of Famer Dominik Hasek proud. Faragher also had 31 saves in his last start, earning a shutout against Utah on Saturday, December 9th.
The former Grizzles goaltender doesn’t believe this success is all his doing, though. He’s quick to give credit where credit’s due.
“(I attribute it to) team play,” Faragher remarked. “The guys are taking away any rebounds I do give out. I try my best not to give any, but it’s going to happen throughout the game. There were some mad scrambles tonight where Baldy (Corbin Baldwin) and Tommy (Thompson) stepped into the crease and made some saves…it’s things like that. And, just having good practices leading up to games and feeling comfortable. I’m having a lot of fun here in Boise; it’s nice to be on the winning side of this rink.”
The scoreless first period yielded some quality scoring opportunities for both squads, with Idaho and Wichita netting eight shots on goal apiece. Crisp passing, solid forechecking, and great goaltending were disciplines both teams adhered to in what Idaho Head Coach Neil Graham called a “chess match” as the two teams “felt each other out” in the opening period.
Graham expounded: “When you have two good hockey teams coming together – they have a physical brand, we have a physical brand – I thought it was clean hockey. I don’t think there was a lot of chippyness, but just two structured hockey teams that were playing very hard. It was a good game.”
The physical brands Coach Graham alluded to began to take root and solidify in the second period. For example, a total of eight penalties were handed out in the second alone as both squads bashed and bruised each other up, attempting to break the scoreless tie. Wichita had penalties from Shaquille Merasty, Dyson Stevenson, Travis Ewanyk, Lane Bauer, and Guillaume Lepine in the second; Idaho’s Cody Corbett had two penalties, while Jefferson Dahl & Chris Martenet also added minor infractions to the second period stat sheet.
Idaho and Wichita increased their shots on goal in the second period as well, with the Steelheads producing 14 shots to Wichita’s 11. No shot was more significant and nerve-racking, however, than the shot Mark MacMillan took for the Thunder at 12:48 in the second. Wichita’s leading goal-scorer was on a breakaway chance when Idaho’s Eric Sweetman interfered, awarding the Wichita forward a penalty shot. As MacMillan approached, he swung to his left, then wristed his shot to the right. Faragher was quick to react, reaching his glove out and denying the puck with his left leg pad.
The momentum from the stopped penalty shot carried Idaho into the minutes ahead. About two minutes after the penalty shot, Corey Durocher made an on-the-fly pass to a waiting Connor Chatham in Wichita territory. Chatham then skated by a defender to set up Jefferson Dahl with a one-timer that Dahl drove home at 14:39 of the second to give Idaho a 1-0 lead. Not even a minute and a half after Dahl’s goal, Joe Faust took a neutral zone faceoff win close to the center line and dumped the puck into Wichita’s zone. The puck careened off the boards toward Thunder goalie Joel Rumpel. The puck then took an odd bounce past Rumpel as he unsuccessfully tried to stop it with his left leg pad. The end of the second couldn’t come soon enough for the Swift Current native, as Idaho fans gave Rumpel ample grief for the rest of the period.
Gameplay continued to be fast and furious in the final frame, with shots on goal evening up to 21 apiece two minutes into the third. The aforementioned Baldwin save in the crease occurred at around the 4:30 mark, with the former Spokane Chiefs stand-out sliding down and making the save when Faragher was caught out of position. Idaho then pushed harder for scoring chances, resulting in A.J. White assisting Henrik Samuelsson’s goal at 14:31 of the third to make it 3-0, Idaho. The final five minutes of the game included Thompson dropping the gloves with Wichita d-man Etienne Boutet in a short bout of fisticuffs at 16:39, and the last-minute Beaudry goal with 23 seconds left that ended Faragher’s shutout aspirations.
Idaho and Wichita will faceoff once more tonight at CenturyLink Arena to finish their two-game series in Boise.
News of Note
-Idaho and Wichita combined for a total of nineteen penalties — 10 for the Thunder, nine for the Steelheads — in Friday night’s matchup. Both teams were barren on the resulting power plays, however, with Idaho going 0-for-7 and Wichita going 0-for-6.
-In his shutout effort on Saturday against the Utah Grizzles, Ryan Faragher wore a specialty jersey that donned the #1 instead of his usually #35. The jersey was designed for a jersey auction that took place after the game to benefit St. Luke’s Children. He was asked after the win against Wichita why the number change was made.
“That was already a thing that (equipment manager Khris Bestel) had made up,” Faragher said. “It was already sewn on for when (Branden) Komm was here, so he didn’t want to change the number. It wasn’t my call, but that’s all right. It was just for one night.”