The Thunder enjoyed all the pre-game momentum in front of a crowd of 5,382 on Friday. Banners celebrating last season’s CHL-leading 44 wins and conference title hung at one end of Intrust Bank Arena. Fans cheered introductions of old favorites and new faces. A slam-bang highlight video raised the noise level.
Then the first period started. The Thunder faded and the crowd quieted. Tulsa scored two goals in the period on its way to a three-goal lead and a 4-3 victory in the opener for both teams.
“It seemed like we needed a wakeup call,” Thunder forward Matt Summers said. “It’s tough to let down that big crowd. They were loud and they gave us some energy.”
Tulsa came in as a late replacement for the Quad City Mallards, a team that can’t get organized in time to play its schedule. The Oilers had no problem adjusting to the change. They took advantage of two Thunder turnovers by defensemen near the goal and everybody pointed to those scores as the big difference. The first sloppy pass led to a 2-0 Tulsa lead in the first period. The second gift helped the Oilers go up 4-2 late in the third period.
“We gave them two goals,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “We’ve got to make better decisions with the puck. Those are plays that shouldn’t be made at this level. You’re just reversing it to them and they’re walking out front and scoring.”
Tulsa took the momentum from the game’s first goal and turned that into a lead it never lost. The two opportunistic goals kept Wichita in a hole.
“We were in the right spot at the right time,” Tulsa coach Bruce Ramsay said. “You go through your systems to create those opportunities, so a couple goals were from the forechecks we use.”
Wichita recovered from the passive first period and out-shot the Oilers 10-5 in the second and 12-8 in the third.
“As the game went on, we got better as a team,” Thunder forward Matt Tassone said. “We just beat ourselves tonight. We coughed up the puck when we should have made better, simpler, smarter plays.”
The Thunder rallied with two third-period goals. Summers, the team’s top scorer last season, redirected a shot from the wing by Dave Inman to cut Tulsa’s lead to 3-2 with 7:09 into the final period. After the Oilers went up 4-2, RG Flath scored quickly to make it a one-goal game with three minutes remaining.
“We answered, but a little late,” Summers said.
McClelland pulled goalie Kevin Regan in the final two minutes and Wichita got off a flurry of shots. Oilers goalie Dan Bakala survived, as he did most of the night.
The Thunder killed off two penalties in the first period without facing significant peril. Shortly after both, however, they gave up goals.
Tulsa’s Michel Beausoleil beat Regan low to his glove side after a 2-on-1 rush early in the first period. Late in the period, the Thunder defense surrendered the puck near its own goal. Regan, forced to scramble out of goal, gave Gary Steffes an opening and he slapped in a shot directly in front of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Wichita controlled the puck most of the period, except when it got close to the net. Then the Thunder failed to connect on passes, wasting several chances. Bakala stopped a shot by Tassone, breaking open toward the net, early. Dustin Donaghy passed too hard off Neil Trimm’s stick seconds later with Trimm in front of the net. Chad Painchaud tried a wraparound midway through the period and couldn’t get the puck past Bakala’s pads. Most painfully, Trimm whiffed on a shot with Bakala off balance late in the period.
Tulsa took a 3-0 lead on a power-play goal, with a two-man advantage, early in the second period
Wichita put more pressure on Bakala in the second period, organizing several breaks and give-and-go opportunities. The Thunder took 10 shots to Tulsa’s five. Tassone scored the Thunder’s first goal, knocking in his own rebound on a power play with 5:39 remaining. Down 3-1, Wichita kept play in the Oilers end most of the period, again missing several chances. It failed to take advantage of a Tulsa penalty when it couldn’t convert a 3-on-2 break. Later, Matt Boyd caught Bakala 10 feet out of net and flipped the puck past him. He couldn’t beat the angle and shot wide of the goal.
First period — 1, Tulsa, Beausoleil (Steffes, Register), 7:23. 2, Tulsa, Steffes (Erickson, Beauregard), 18:05. Penalties — Painchaud, Wichita (interference), :045; Boyd, Wichita (tripping), 14:35.
Second period — 4, Tulsa, Gordon (Beauregard, Menei), 4:20. 5, Wichita, Tassone (Lowe, Young), 5:39. Penalties — Donaghy, Wichita (slashing), 2:28; Tassone, Wichita (boarding), 3:27; Gingera, Tulsa (tripping), 4:27; Ofukany, Tulsa (high sticking), 5:39; Mariani, Tulsa (interference), 13:23; Boogard, Wichita (elbowing), 18:01.
Third period — 6, Wichita, Summers (Inman, Hanson), 7:09. 7, Tulsa, Cramer (Gingera), 16:41; 3. Wchita, Flath (Summer, Young), 17:00. Penalties — Hanson, Wichita (high sticking), 11:13.
Power plays — Tulsa 1 of 6; Wichita 1 of 4.
Shots — Tulsa 7-5-8—20; Wichita 6-10-12—28.
Goalies — Tulsa, Bakala 28 shots-25 saves; Wichita, Regan 20-16.
T — 2:27. A — 5,382.