FAYETTEVILLE, NC – In a battle of unbeaten teams, the Fayetteville FireAntz stayed undefeated and prevailed, 4-1, against the Mississippi RiverKings on the strength of a hat trick by forward Tayler Thompson. Despite a sparse opening night crowd of 1,428 at the Crown Coliseum, both teams came out with energy and it translated into fast paced action in the opening period.
Before any points were scored, however, things got physical as Brad Drobot and Brantley Sherwood dropped the gloves after Sherwood hit a FireAntz player into the boards. The ref did not whistle a penalty on the play but Drobot decided the hit could not go unpunished.
Things calmed down and the RiverKings opened the scoring at 7:23 of the first period when Ryan Marcuz stuffed a backhand past FireAntz goalie Sean Bonar for his first goal of the young season. The goal was assisted by captain Devin Mantha and RiverKings scoring leader Matt Harrington. The FireAntz would respond at 13:09 of the first period when Thompson notched his first goal of the game on a long distance shot that surprised RiverKings goalie Alex Caffi. Thompson wasted little time in tallying his second goal of the game at 17:55 of the opening frame on a quick wrist shot from the face-off circle that beat Caffi far side off a feed from Chris Porter, his second assist of a Thompson goal in the first period.
Despite leading 2-1 heading into the second period, the FireAntz showed no signs of letting up as they controlled play for much of the middle frame. The RiverKings spent much of the frame in their own end trying to clear the puck as the FireAntz used a strong forechecking game to keep the pressure on Caffi and the RiverKings. Caffi came up with a big save on a Joe Harcharik shot from the slot during a sustained wave of pressure early on in the period but Harcharik got one by Caffi a few minutes later at the 7:09 mark through a screen to put the FireAntz up 3-1. Only one minute later, the FireAntz successfully killed off a Josh Elmes charging penalty to keep the momentum in their favor. A heavyweight bout between Tyler Barr and Nick Rivait at the 14:34 mark of the second period got the fans on their feet and seemed to energize both teams but the period ended with the score remaining 3-1 FireAntz.
The RiverKings turned up the pressure in the final period putting 10 shots on FireAntz goalie Bonar but he was up to the task stopping all 10 third period shots. Thompson of the FireAntz was not done for the night, however, as he tallied his third goal of the night at 9:10 of the third, batting home his own rebound into a wide open net as RiverKings goalie Caffi was out of position after making the initial save. Bonar stopped 23 of 24 shots on the night to improve his record to 3-0 on the season. Caffi kept 21 of 25 shots out of his net in the loss. Coming into the game, the RiverKings rookie goalie had a stellar saves percentage of .971 while his counterpart Bonar had played in net in all of the FireAntz games this season sporting a saves percentage of .930. Porter finished the night with 3 assists as the line of Thompson, Porter, and newly signed Anton Lennartsson seemed to have the upper hand and put pressure on the RiverKings the entire game.
The FireAntz improved to 3-0 on the season while the RiverKings record dropped to 2-1. Both teams will battle again Saturday night in the second game of back to back games at the Crown Coliseum.
The Sin Bin’s Three Stars
★ – Taylor Thompson – FAY (Three goals on five shots, +3)
★★ – Chris Porter – FAY (Three assists, +3)
★★★ – Sean Bonar – FAY (23 saves, 1 goal allowed)
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