SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — An improbable turn of events almost happened at the Landers Center in Southaven, Mississippi, on Saturday night. The Evansville Thunderbolts, a team without a regulation win in their last seven games, roared back from a four-goal deficit to tie the Mississippi RiverKings in the third period.
The RiverKings got off to about as hot of a start to a hockey as one can hope for. Mississippi, playing the physical game early, took a Jake Schultz cross checking call. During the Kings first penalty kill of the game, Brantley Sherwood got open on a breakaway, beating Thunderbolts starter Matt Leon with a forehand move to open the scoring. Once back at even strength, the RiverKings scored on their next shot, with Ryan Salkeld finding Matt Harrington in the high slot. By the time fans were finding their seats, the RiverKings were leading 2-0 on their first two shots of the night.
Leon continued to struggle in net for Evansville. The rookie netminder, playing in only his second professional start in the SPHL, would give up a third goal in the first period. With the RiverKings on their first power play of the night Devin Mantha ripped a shot from the left circle past Leon and down off the crossbar. Mississippi finished the opening period with a 3-0 lead. The Kings would extend their margin to four goals on their next – and final – power play opportunity of the evening as Bryan Arneson extended his goal-scoring streak to four games at the 1:56 mark of the middle frame. Bolts coach Jeff Pyle ended Leon’s night after giving up his fourth goal of the night.
The goaltending switch paid off for Evansville. Jonah Imoo stemmed the offensive onslaught from the RiverKings, making several impressive stops in the second period. Mississippi seemed to shift gears with their four-goal lead in hand, moving away from their hard-charging, physical game they utilized earlier. During the first period, Mississippi’s penalty kill was extremely effective. In the second period, special teams wound up getting the Thunderbolts on the scoresheet thanks to Nick Lazorko‘s power play goal at the 8:54 mark of the second period and began to shift the momentum of the game in Evansville’s favor.
As the third period began, it was clear the RiverKings were playing back on their heels and waiting for the game to end. The Thunderbolts immediately capitalized on the Kings’ laissez-faire attitude. Frank Schumacher took advantage of poor gap control on a right side rush and blew a shot past Jared Rutledge 87 seconds into the third period. All of a sudden, the RiverKings found themselves back in a hockey game they thought was already over.
Not even close. The Thunderbolts continued to buzz around the ice and after goals by John Scorcia and Mike Fazio, the RiverKings found their once-insurmountable four-goal lead completely evaporated. Evansville’s four unanswered goals tied the game halfway through the third period, 4-4.
Fortunately for the RiverKings, Ryan Marcuz is one of the top clutch players in the league. The fourth-year player for Mississippi has had nine previous game-winning goals in his career. After a tough-angle shot from the right side found the gap between Imoo’s pad and the post, Marcuz would notch the tenth deciding goal of his career. Koba Jass would add an insurance marker with 1:13 remaining in the game and send the Thunderbolts to their eighth-straight loss. The RiverKings 6-4 result would be their fourth straight victory and are now three points behind Evansville for sixth place in the standings.
Three Stars of the Game
★ – Ryan Marcuz – Mississippi – Goal, Game Winning Goal, +1
★★ – John Scorcia – Evansville – Goal, 2 Assists
★★★ – Don Olivieri – Mississipppi – 3 Assists, +2, 5 Shots
|Mississippi RiverKings – Brantley Sherwood (short handed) (Vojtech Zemlicka, Kristaps Bazevics) 2:22
Mississippi RiverKings – Matt Harrington (Pijus Rulevicius, Ryan Salkeld) 3:09
Mississippi RiverKings – Devin Mantha (power play) (Donald Olivieri, Vojtech Zemlicka) 17:57
|Mississippi RiverKings – Bryan Arneson (power play) (Donald Olivieri) 1:56
Evansville – Nick Lazorko (power play) (Dave Williams, John Scorcia) 8:54
|Evansville – Frank Schumacher (John Scorcia, Dave Williams) 1:27
Evansville – John Scorcia (unassisted) 9:00
Evansville – Mike Fazio (Cory Melkert) 13:15
Mississippi RiverKings – Ryan Marcuz (Devin Mantha) 16:00
Mississippi RiverKings – Koba Jass (Donald Olivieri, Matt Harrington) 18:47
|Mississippi RiverKings – Jake Schultz – (Cross Checking), 2 MIN, 0:51
Mississippi RiverKings – Cody Walsh – (Holding), 2 MIN, 7:03
Mississippi RiverKings – Devin Mantha – (Holding), 2 MIN, 14:37
Evansville – Brandon Lubin – (Interference), 2 MIN, 17:11
|Evansville – Brandon Lubin – (Cross Checking), 2 MIN, 0:56
Mississippi RiverKings – Jake Schultz – (High Sticking), 2 MIN, 8:12
Mississippi RiverKings – Jake Schultz – (Roughing), 2 MIN, 8:12
Evansville – Sean Reynolds – (Roughing), 2 MIN, 8:12
Mississippi RiverKings – Devin Mantha – (Hooking), 2 MIN, 12:03
Mississippi RiverKings – Pijus Rulevicius – (Fighting) (Major), 5 MIN, 14:59
Evansville – Nick Wright – (Fighting) (Major), 5 MIN, 14:59
Mississippi RiverKings – Bryan Arneson – (Slashing), 2 MIN, 17:06
Evansville – Dave Williams – (High Sticking), 2 MIN, 17:06
|Evansville – Mark Petaccio – (Verbal Abuse of Officials) (Game Misconduct) (39.5), 10 MIN, 12:57|