WICHITA, KS – The quest for franchise win number 400 at home will have to wait for a few more days.
The South Carolina Stingrays came into Intrust Bank Arena and swept the weekend series against the Thunder, taking Saturday’s game by the score of 4-1.
Looking for any shred of chemistry possible, Thunder head coach Kevin McClelland went with the line combination of Dean Chelios/Kenton Miller/Michael Neal to start the game. It was a move that paid dividends quickly as Miller took a nice pass from Chelios and with some fancy stick work, got the puck by Stingrays netminder Vitek Vanecek to give Wichita a 1-0 lead.
The goal was Miller’s eleventh of the season, but just his first point this month, after registering 11 (4G, 7A) during the month of January.
But, just like last night, South Carolina came back with a vengeance.
Soon after the Miller goal, David Pacan shuttled a beautiful pass to the stick of Brett Cameron, who roofed the shot by Grant Rollheiser to even the game at 1. Joe Devin would give the Stingrays the lead late in the first, scoring on a two-man advantage power play with just over three-and-a-half minutes left in the period.
The Thunder would have a golden opportunity to tie the game at two early in the second period, but once again, the inferiority of the Thunder’s power play unit showed up.
“Unbelievable looks. Unbelievable looks. We don’t even make the goalie (Vanecek) make a save,” Thunder head coach Kevin McClelland said. “We had three (shots) in a row, all you hear is glass. I keep saying it, hit the net. At least make the goalie make a save.”
“On their 5-on-3, Rollie (Thunder goaltender Grant Rollheiser) had to make two or three saves and finally, one goes through. We should be automatic on 5-on-3’s. We tie it up 2-2, it’s a different ball game.”
Instead, the Stingrays seized momentum from killing the two-man advantage and Austin Fyten took the game over. The fourth year pro scored the first of two at 11:37 of the middle frame, when Caleb Herbert walked the puck down the left wing and centering a pass to Fyten. The forward slipped a shot underneath Rollheiser’s right arm for the goal.
The second one came less than five minutes later and was one shorthanded. He took a Patrick Gaul pass and roofed a shot over Rollheiser’s blocker that sent the water bottle flying off the net and made the score 4-1.
“That short handed goal is a killer,” McClelland said.
The Thunder now have allowed eight shorthanded goals this season, which is tied with Wheeling for fourth most in the ECHL, only behind Brampton (11), Greenville (11), and Orlando (10).
For Saturday night only being the second ever meeting between the two clubs, it did not lack for physicality. The game featured four fights, including one where team captain Ian Lowe (5’9″ tall) and Stingrays defenseman Joey Leach (6’4″ tall) fought to a draw early in the third period.
Later in the period, Dan Milan took on Wade Epp.
“I haven’t snapped in a long time. But the guy (Epp) skates behind me and blows on my neck for a good two seconds. We lost the game, it’s obvious. The game was over, you don’t do that stuff and I took offense to it,” Milan said of the fight.
The fight earned Milan an instigator penalty in the last five minutes of the game, which means he could be suspended for this afternoon’s game in Tulsa.
With the win, South Carolina improves to 27-16-4-2 (60 pts) and moved into the fourth position in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, Wichita will look to snap its six-game slide Tuesday night, when the Quad City Mallards pay a visit to Intrust Bank Arena.