Adam Russo is one of the best goaltenders in the Central Hockey League, but it was too much to ask, even of him, to be as good as Thunder teammate Bryan Hogan in goal against Quad City on Friday night.
But there was Russo, taking over for an injured Hogan with nine minutes to go after Hogan, Wichitas backup goalie, had stopped all 28 shots fired his way.
Russo was unable to preserve the shutout, but he quickly shook off the frustration from surrendering a goal. The Thunder stifled a late flurry of shots to hold on for a 2-1 win at Intrust Bank Arena. Wichita, first place in the Berry Conference, has won eight of its last nine games.
"Hogan played really well for the first 50 minutes," Russo said. "I only went in there for 10 minutes. Its kind of frustrating to give up a goal that quick it was on a power play but we got the win and thats the most important thing."
Hogan has now won all five of his starts since joining the Thunder after a trade with Dayton last month. His presence gives Wichita a formidable tandem in goal and allows the team to use both him and Russo selectively.
Wichitas defense made Quad City uncomfortable with physical play Friday, and Hogan proved a strong anchor, staying focused when the Mallards played more aggressively to start the final period.
The injury to Hogan wasnt diagnosed, but the rookie has had groin problems in the past. He skated off the ice after facing a shot with nine minutes to go, and coach Kevin McClelland said Hogan was cramping up.
Russo was determined to maintain Hogans level of play, but it might have been out of control. The Mallards collective confidence could have only improved with Hogan out of the way, and the power play soon into Russos stint improved their chances of scoring.
They cashed in a goal with less than seven minutes to play, cutting Wichitas lead to 2-1.
"I shouldnt say its a little bit of extra pressure," Russo said. "But he had a shutout. If he would have kept on going, he probably would have continued with the shutout. He was on his game all night long. For what he was doing, he was doing everything right."
Adding to Russos challenge was the fact that Quad City has taken more overall shots and scored more third-period goals than any team in the league. The Mallards were on the attack during the final period, but were also hampered by a penalty.
Shortly after Quad Citys goal, Mallards defenseman Bob Preece drew a high sticking double minor penalty, leaving them man short for four minutes. When the penalty ended, Quad City pulled its goalie but had just 44 seconds to operate with a 6-on-5 advantage.
The Mallards took several shots, but Wichitas defense blocked all the ones that Russo didnt save.
"I just tried to battle through it," Russo said. "Thats the only thing I can do. The guys were blocking shots and getting in front of shots. Thats what we have to do in a 6-on-5 situation, is get in front of shots and hold onto the win."
Quad Citys usually effecient offense was less so during the first two periods, as Wichitas bigger players laid into the Mallards faster ones. Wichita controlled the tempo and the puck for much of the game, leading two a first-period goal by Aaron Davis and a power-play goal by Matt Robinson in the third.
"I think we definitely have a tougher team," Wichita forward RG Flath said. "Its just one of those things that sometimes you need to send a message that we wont be pushed around."
Davis returned after missing eight games with an injury. Russo missed far less time Friday just 50-plus minutes but, like Davis, he provided energy when the Thunder needed it.
"The game is winding down and youre just sitting down relaxing, waiting for a big win," Russo said. "Waiting, waiting, waiting then something happens like that."
Scoring1. Wichita, Davis (Robinson, Summers), 14:17. PenaltiesQuad City, Lang (tripping), 15:02.
ScoringNone. PenaltiesQuad City, Preece (interference), 0:46; Quad City, Duffy (holding), 4:08; Wichita Flath (boarding), 7:25; Wichita, Flath (roughing), 19:35; Quad City, Lavender (roughing), 19:35; Wichita, Mohr (slashing), 19:50.
Scoring2. Wichita, Robinson PP (Davis, Mohr), 3:33; 3. Quad City, Duffy PP (Hofstetter, Giosa), 13:43. PenaltiesQuad City, Lavender (hooking), 3:27; Wichita, Flath (roughing double minor), 12:07; Quad City, McMillan (roughing), 12:07; Quad City, Preece (high sticking double minor), 15:16.
Power playQuad City 1 for 3, Wichita 1 for 6.
ShotsQuad City, 7-12-1534; Wichita, 9-10-928
SavesQuad City, McKee 26 saves on 28 shots; Wichita, Hogan 28 saves on 28 shots, Russo 5 saves on 6 shots.