WICHITA, Kan. – It was a game the Thunder needed something from, anything.
And they got nothing.
Trevor Cheek‘s four-point night and Ryan Culkin‘s game-winning goal with 75 seconds left was enough to give the Komets a 5-3 win, securing the first February in team history where the Komets were not beaten in regulation.
Wichita got off to a hot start, controlling much of the opening period of play. During their first power-play of the evening, Chad Butcher got the Thunder on the board when he connected on a nice cross-ice pass from Ralph Cuddemi to give Wichita a 1-0 lead. Just 2:30 later, Cheek would score his first of the night, when he fired a puck that beat Nick Riopel blocker-side to tie the game at 1-1.
Eighty-one seconds into the middle frame, Justin Hodgman put the visitors ahead when he again picked blocker-side on Riopel and gave Fort Wayne a 2-1 lead.
Wichita would respond, however.
In his first game as a pro, Ryan Van Stralen put the puck past Michael Houser in a net-mouth scramble to knot the game at two.
Seconds after a Van Stralen tripping minor expired, Cuddemi and Samuel Thibault raced the puck up the ice, fed Jeremy Beaudry, who fired it past Houser to give Wichita a 3-2 lead heading into the second intermission. A Curtis Leonard interference minor would give Wichita a huge chance to put the Komets away in the third, but it wasn’t to be. The Thunder could not generate any offense in the Komets’ end during that man-advantage.
From there, Fort Wayne took over, pressuring the Thunder defense all third period long. Wichita was held off the shot sheet for the first 12:49 of the period. The constant pressure paid off when Cheek scored again just 3:15 into the period to tie the game at three.
During a scramble in front of his cage later in the period, Riopel would be shaken up but would stay in the game. Ultimately, with roughly three minutes left in regulation, Riopel would be lifted for Shane Starrett.
Starrett’s entry into the game would be a rude one, as Cheek would fire a shot off of Starrett’s helmet and it careened over to Culkin, who beat the Thunder netminder to give Fort Wayne a 4-3 lead. A Shawn Szydlowski empty net goal would put a bow on the scoring.
With the loss, Wichita was not able to gain any ground on the Idaho Steelheads, meaning that no matter the result between the two teams this weekend, Idaho will still come out second in the Mountain Division. On the other side, Fort Wayne remains one point back of Toledo in the race for the Central Division lead.
News and Notes:
- Jon Puskar did not return to the Thunder bench after he was slashed early in the first period.
- Thunder head coach Malcolm Cameron did not speak with the media after the game, and there was no update on the status of either Puskar or Riopel.
- Ralph Cuddemi collected three helpers on the night, and has points in eight of his last nine games (6G, 8A).