SPRINGFIELD, MA – Chase Balisy’s first period goal and Mike McKenna’s 32 save shutout put the Springfield Thunderbirds on top of their I-91 rival, the Hartford Wolf Pack 2-0 to extend the winning streak now to five games. It was McKenna’s 201st win in the American Hockey League.
“I thought we played well without the puck and didn’t have much offensive zone time and didn’t have the forecheck going as much. I thought Mike McKenna played a great game was very aggressive and deserved the shutout,” Thunderbirds Head Coach Geordie Kinnear said.
Late in the first period, Wolf Pack defenseman Chris Summers received a penalty for tripping. The Thunderbirds took full advantage and responded with a power play goal. A MacKenzie Weegar shot from the point was kicked out by Hartford netminder Brandon Halverson, but Springfield forward Chase Balisy was waiting to pounce on the rebound and bury it to put the Thunderbirds up 1-0. Thanks to McKenna, that would be all the offense Springfield would need on this night.
“We did a lot of good work there on the power playR, eally got them running around .just get a shot through and rebounds. That’s how you score on the power play around the net,” Balisy said.
Summers would later be called for another penalty, but the Thunderbirds weren’t so opportunistic this time around. After jumping out of the box, Summers came down the left wing with the puck, headed in McKenna’s direction. McKenna made the save sliding to the left but as the puck was lying in the crease, a couple of Thunderbirds players dove on the puck, one covering the puck with their glove which is a no-no. The Wolf Pack were awarded a penalty shot. McKenna had to come up big, just as he did all night, as leading scorer Nicklas Jensen took the penalty shot attempt for the Wolf Pack. Jensen tried to deck a backhand one-handed but McKenna stretched out enough to make the pad save and deny Jensen the scoring chance to tie the game.
The Wolf Pack would get more possession time in the second period but could not solve McKenna. With the Thunderbirds playing the Wolf Pack for the third weekend, Kinnear thought he was going to see a motivated Wolf Pack team.
“I know they probably weren’t happy with the performance and The outcome of the game yesterday (Friday night). So I knew we were going to get a motivated Hartford team and I thought our guys answered pretty well,” Kinnear said.
The Wolf Pack kept coming in the final frame, but the Thunderbirds defense clamped down, holding them to just a single shot on goal throughout the first half of the period. Dryden Hunt would add an empty net goal for the second night in a row and give the Thunderbirds some insurance with a 2-0 lead. The Wolf Pack would not go quietly as they through a flurry of shots at McKenna in the final minute but to no avail.
It was first home shutout in franchise history for the Thunderbirds, and also the first shutout of the year for McKenna.
“I am not really worried about a number. I am just happy that we kept winning. It’s a great feeling to do something like that. We’ve been playing well, Finally, kind of string a few together and get rewarded. That’s the best feeling,” McKenna said.
The month of February has been good for the Thunderbirds. Balisy feels they went through a lull but said his teammates have started to play the right way. He feels that they are doing things on the ice that are necessary to be successful and it says a lot that the team have gotten better and progressed throughout the season, but he also knows that they have to keep it going.
The Thunderbirds will try to make it six in a row when they head to the Dunkin Donuts Center this afternoon to take on the Providence Bruins.
“That team (Hartford) doesn’t give up much. We had trouble offensively against them. You have to win on the road and going into that building is a tough building against a top team and you know we have to continue to play the right away and keep this thing going the right direction,” Kinnear said.
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