WICHITA, KS – The rematch between the Rapid City Rush and Wichita Thunder Sunday afternoon was a tale of two games. The first period, highly entertaining. The second and third….? Meh.
The first period of the contest was one that has been a long time coming for Thunder fans; one that featured big hits, a “fight” (more a player losing his mind than anything) and goals…lots of goals.
“I think the whole first period we played really structurally sound,” said Thunder head coach Malcolm Cameron. “Unbelievable. As good as of a period of any team that I have coached in this league.”
The frivolity got going two minutes into the contest when Jeremy Beaudry fired a low slapshot from the blueline that beat Rush netminder Christian Frey clean and gave Wichita a 1-0 lead. The marker, a power play goal, was the first of the season for Wichita and snapped a nine-game streak dating back to last season that the Thunder had not converted on the power play.
The heart of the onslaught started at just over six minutes into the period, when Kyle Platzer went in all alone on Frey and beat him glove-side to give Wichita a 2-0 lead. The goal was the Thunder’s first shortie of the season. Just 68 seconds later, Travis Ewanyk would light the lamp, capitalizing off a turnover from Michael Sdao and again, putting it glove side by Frey. During the goal celebration, Sdao drops his gloves and jumps Ewanyk, landing at least five good punches, sending Ewanyk to the ice. For his troubles, Sdao would be assessed five minutes for fighting and earn an early trip to the bus. It would also be the end of the action for Frey, who made just three saves. Fifty-eight seconds later, Platzer would add his second goal of the afternoon on the power play off a beautiful tic-tac-toe play from linemates Zach O’Brien and Matt DeBlouw to give Wichita a 4-0 lead. The Thunder would end up scoring the three goals in a minute and 56-second span during the mid-stages of the period.
Dyson Stevenson would get into the act and wrap up the scoring at the 11:25 mark, potting a sweet feed from Guillaume Asselin to give Wichita a 5-0 lead. When the dust settled, nine Thunder players got on the scoresheet, and the line of O’Brien-Platzer-DeBlouw combined for five points (2G, 3A). The Thunder scored goals from many different varieties; including two power-play, shorthanded, four-on-four and five-on-five.
But for as good as the first was, the second may have been the worst period defensively the Thunder have played this season.
“It was like an old car engine in -60 (degrees) in North Dakota. Completely shut off and it took us twenty minutes to get it going,” Cameron said.
The Rush did a good job of pestering Wichita on the forecheck and stepped up their backchecking, something that has been hit & miss all season. The result of all that was the Thunder being incredibly sloppy with the puck and the Rush getting ten shots on Shane Starrett in the middle frame and denting the lead to 5-1.
Credit to the Rush, though, they never quit battling. Alex Kromm picked up his first ECHL goal 5:24 into the third period on a goal that beat Starrett blocker side. More to the point, the Rush got significant offensive zone time in the second and third periods.
The Thunder improves to 4-0-0 on the season and have won the first four games of the season for the first time since the 2011-12 season. They will travel to Tulsa for a mid-week game against the Tulsa Oilers Wednesday night, before wrapping up the month against the Kansas City Mavericks next Saturday night in Independence, MO.