And then…defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.
After penalties for Steelheads captain A.J. White and alternate captain Mitch Moroz late in the third period, the Wichita Thunder put away Idaho by a score of 4-2 after carrying a 2-2 tie through the end of the second period and most of the third.
The Steelheads began the game going up 3-1 in shots on goal before the Thunder drew first blood. Applying pressure on Idaho netminder Colton Point, Wichita clogged up the space in front of Point’s crease before testing the Dallas Stars prospect with a couple of shots. The puck then made its way to the left wing side to a waiting Jason Salvaggio, who easily placed it into the yawning cage for the night’s first goal at 4:42 of the opening frame.
Almost seven minutes later, Wichita forward Corey Kalk possessed the puck in the right wing faceoff circle. With an Idaho defender peeling off to guard another Thunder skater, Kalk faced Point one-on-one before putting the puck by him at 11:12 to extend Wichita’s lead, 2-0. Immediately after the goal, Steelheads Head Coach Neil Graham replaced Point with goaltender Ryan Faragher.
Faragher coming off the bench gave Idaho the spark it needed to storm back into the game. After finishing out the first period with no further scoring allowed, the Steelheads began reversing their fortunes near the halfway point of the second. With Wichita defenseman Dillon Donnelly in the penalty box for a high sticking minor, Idaho d-man Nolan Gluchowski wristed a shot from the blue line through traffic. With no deflections on the way to the net, Gluchowski’s wrist shot hit nothing but net for the Steelheads first goal of the night, a power play tally, at 8:46 of period two.
Business began to pick up from there, as Moroz charged Wichita defender Jared Wilson in the corner of the Thunder zone at 9:22. Multiple skirmishes broke out, as every skater grabbed their opposing assignment while Moroz piled on Wilson. After serving his two-minute minor, Moroz bolted towards the Wichita zone while Steelheads forward Spencer Naas was advancing up ice. Moroz screened a Wichita defenseman as Naas forged ahead, and cutting towards the middle, Naas snapped his shot by Thunder netminder Dylan Wells to tie the game up two a side at 11:30 of the second stanza.
With nearly a minute left in the second period, Idaho’s Steve McParland and Wichita captain Dyson Stevenson began chatting by Wichita’s blue line. After both men nodded at each other whilst dropping their gloves, McParland began laying on heavy left hands while Stevenson was trying to reciprocate. 20 seconds into their fight, McParland knocked Stevenson to his knees with a quick left, ending the scrap and igniting the home crowd.
The momentum carried with the Steelheads heading into the third period, with both teams contributing shots on net before White was called for holding at 13:30. On the following Thunder power play, forward Quentin Shore lobbed a shot onto Faragher’s net that was deflected in by Stevenson at 14:53. Moroz was called for interference at 17:56, so as Coach Graham pulled Faragher for an extra skater, it only brought Idaho back to five-on-five hockey. Shore put in an empty-netter at 19:01 to bump Wichita up to their 4-2 lead and final.
Wichita and Idaho will play tomorrow night at 7:10pm MT in the rubber match for the three-game set.