WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah – The offense has been there all year for the Wichita Thunder, but the defense has been up and down like a fiddler’s elbow.
Friday night’s contest against the Utah Grizzlies was yet another instance of the Thunder defense getting lit up like Baghdad at the start of the 1991 Gulf War. For the seventh time in their last nine road games, the Thunder allowed five or more goals and lost to the Utah Grizzlies 7-3 Friday night at Maverik Center.
In his first start against his former club, Joel Rumpel looked very strong, stopping 19 of 22 shots and improving to 4-1 since his trade to the Grizzlies earlier this month.
Michael Pelech got things going for Utah at 8:14 of the first to make it 1-0. Ralph Cuddemi connected on his 22nd of the season at 11:51 with a power-play goal that tied the game at one. Four minutes later, Ryan Misiak re-gained the lead for the Grizzlies with a shorthanded marker at 15:25 to make it 2-1. Brendan Harms found a loose puck at 18:59 and fired it over Shane Starrett‘s left shoulder to make it 3-1. Jon Puskar, making his return to Utah, cut the lead to one with 17 seconds to go in the frame, beating Rumpel to the glove side.
In the second, Ryan Walters scored at 5:55 to increase the lead back to two, up 4-2. Misiak added his second of the game at 15 minutes to make it 5-2. Starrett was lifted and Nick Riopel came on in relief. Utah’s offense kept going as Pelech lit the lamp at 18:25 to make it 6-2. Cuddemi answered just 24 seconds later to cut the lead to 6-3.
Travis Howe closed the scoring at 7:01 of the third period as he went hard to the net and poked in his first goal of the season to make it 7-3.
With the win, Utah has now won four-straight contests and are within four points of Allen/Tulsa for the final playoff spot in the Mountain Division. Wichita, meanwhile, has dropped it’s third straight game and could not gain any ground on Idaho, who also lost on Friday night.
Shane Starrett took the loss and falls to 15-9-3 on the season. Cuddemi is red-hot for the Thunder right now, with five points (4G, 1A) in his last five games.
Wichita and Utah will play the final game of their weekend series tonight at Maverik Center. Due to issues out of our control, there will be no game broadcast on The Sin Bin app.