SPRINGFIELD, MA- Anthony Greco and Kyle Rau scored two third period goals as the Thunderbirds pulled off an upset and ended their four-game losing streak by the defeating the top team in the AHL, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 3-1 Friday night at the MassMutual Center. The Thunderbirds took four out of six in the season series from the Penguins.
“They do have a great team. I just think that Geordie (Kinnear) gave us a good pregame plan against them. We came out ready. These are big games for us. We’re trying to prove something to the league and to beat the best team is definitely a hat off to the guys,” Matt MacKenzie said.
Greco feels the Thunderbirds were trying to spoil the Penguins season with the big win last night.
“Anytime you can get a win against a team like that should give us some confidence for the rest of the season,” Greco said.
The first half of the first period was quiet but things picked up when Penguins right winger Zach Aston-Reese delivered a hard hit on Thunderbirds left winger Tim Bozon. MacKenzie Weegar responded as he and Aston-Reese dropped the gloves. Both received fighting majors while Weegar received an instigating and a 10 minute-misconduct. Thunderbirds Head Coach Geordie Kinnear feels that MacKenzie Weegar is part of the leadership group for his squad.
“We give a lot of credit to the leadership group and he is apart of that, Tomer (Paul Thompson), all those guys. Its a team atmosphere, team-first mentality in where they stick up for one another. Every night they do it. (I’m) proud of that for sure,” Kinnear said.
The Thunderbirds got on the scoreboard in the second period a little over halfway into the frame when Matt Leitner put a pass to Matt MacKenzie who beat Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry to go up 1-0.
“It was a hard working shift by the Leitner line and they got it up to me and happened to get it through. It was a big goal for us. I was happy to see it go in,” MacKenzie said.
The physical play along with the aggression turned into the Thunderbirds favor. Penguins right winger Josh Archibald received a match penalty for charging and a game misconduct for a hit on Thunderbirds defenseman Mike Downing which gave the Thunderbirds a five-minute power play and turned into good momentum.
“Our game plan was to frustrate them and I thought we did that to get that five-minute power play. It was good. We didn’t score right away but we did build some momentum and I think that was key,” MacKenzie said.
Thunderbirds defenseman Ian McCoshen felt the physical play came midway through the second period and escalated when Thunderbirds defenseman Mike Downing got hit.
“You don’t like to see that play happen. I think our team answered the bell and we came out with the win,” McCoshen said.
Greco feels that the game started to get physical in the second period.
“Guys started to get their legs and we started to play simple and play down low, making their defensemen work. It worked out for us,” Greco said.
The Thunderbirds had a power play carry over into the third period when a Jayce Hawryluk shot created a juicy rebound. Anthony Greco put it in to the open net to give the Thunderbirds a 2-0 lead, 55 seconds into the third period. Rau gave the Thunderbirds insurance when he beat Jarry to go up 3-0 with 7:41 left in regulation. The Penguins put an end to Thunderbirds goaltender Sam Brittain’s shutout when Ryan Haggerty scored with less than five-minutes remaining to make it 3-1. Brittain stopped 27 out of 28 shots for the victory.
With the Thunderbirds not making it to the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, Kinnear felt his team is here to compete in the remaining games to continue to build towards next season.
“We’re building something here. Obviously we’re not going to get an opportunity now but a lot of kids in there have worked all year and we want to continue to build this program,” Kinnear said.
MacKenzie will tell you this team never quits even though when they are down by a few goals.
“I think with so few games left, we’re proving ourselves and not throwing in the towel because we have a lot to play for. We’re playing for jobs next year and all that. We have a lot to play for and hopefully we can keep this momentum going into tomorrow,” MacKenzie said.
NOTES: Ian McCoshen was named Thunderbirds’ Man Of The Year and is a candidate for the Yanick Dupre Memorial Award. McCoshen feels it is a great honor to be a representative of Springfield and also be a great representative for the city as well.
When McCoshen goes out in the Pioneer Valley to see the kids to read or talk, he feels it’s awesome to see the smiles on the kids faces when he reads them a book or just gives them the time of day.
“Some of those kids aren’t doing too well away from school. I just want to be someone to talk too and hopefully someone they admire. We don’t want that to limit their potential. We want them to grow and prosper in whatever they do,” McCoshen said.
The Providence Bruins come into town Saturday night for a 7:05 puck drop.