The Thunder and Rapid City met for the first time this season on Friday night, but their newly formed rivalry advanced all the way through Round 4.
Wichita won 6-2, and the feud could intensify when the teams meet again Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena. Four fights occurred — all involving either Aaron Boogaard or Erick Lizon, but Wichita’s skill gave it an advantage against a team that was evenly matched physically.
The villain for Wichita fans Friday was Alex Penner, who lived up to his bad-boy reputation by engaging in two fights and soaking in the jeers. Former Thunder defenseman Justin Sawyer fought with Boogaard in the third but didn’t earn hostility because he gained favor with his toughness for Wichita last season.
Two fights happened within a second of each other in the first period and two more within one second in the third. The violence overshadowed another balanced scoring effort by the Thunder and didn’t do quite as much to energize it as a pair of first-period power-play goals that carried Wichita to its fourth straight win.
"It’s always fun when there’s some big boys on the other side," Lizon said. "It makes things more interesting, gets everybody involved, gets the boys pumped up. I like it."
If one fight could be classified as the undercard, it was the first one, between Boogaard and Rush defenseman Garrett Greunke. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Gruenke is an imposing presence, but his involvement in fighting wasn’t as anticipated as that of Penner and Sawyer.
Though lower on the marquee, that duel turned out to be possibly the most entertaining. The two hesitated to make the first move, but then Boogaard did, hitting Greunke with a barrage of punches that knocked him down.
Lizon and Penner fought immediately after Boogaard and Greunke were sent to the penalty box. Their clash wasn’t as one-sided, and a shoulder injury may have kept Lizon from inflicting the kind of damaged he hoped to against a fellow enforcer. The two squared off again in the third — after Lizon and Boogaard played rock-paper-scissors to see who would go — and appeared evenly matched again.
"Everybody likes the fights, no matter who you are in hockey, whether the opposing team initiates or your team," Lizon said. "To see a fight, it sets everybody off, especially if you win. I had two draws tonight, but two good draws."
Boogaard and Sawyer was the main event. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Lizon might have been a better match for Sawyer, who is 6-6, 240 pounds, but their friendship made a fight less likely.
So Boogaard, at 6-1, 215, stepped up in weight class for a fight with Sawyer that proved evenly matched. As he was sent to the box, Sawyer smiled, more an acknowledgement of his former home fans than the baiting tactics Penner employed.
"I’m not one to pick spots, and I don’t ever want to be known as a spot-picker," Boogaard said. "Whatever happens, happens. I don’t say no (to a fight) very often, so sooner or later you’re going to run into each other."
Early frustration from Rapid City may have contributed to the fights. The Rush scored 68 seconds in, but the Thunder had a 3-1 lead minutes later after the second of two power-play goals followed Ryan Flanigan’s first score of the year.
A change at goalie didn’t spark the Rush, so Rapid City took a different approach.
"In those situations, when you’re down, that’s when the tough guys usually do their thing and try to change the momentum of the game," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said.
The teams meet again Saturday. The brawn each team possesses lends itself to a repeat of Friday, but Boogaard warns that might not happen. Or maybe it will.
"It’s hockey, you know," Boogaard said. "You get a group of guys like us, like Lizon and Sawyer and Penner, we’re all gamers, so you never know what might happen. It might be a snoozefest or (Saturday) night there might be eight fights."
Scoring—1. Rapid City, Masters (Snowden, Penner), 1:08; 2. Wichita, Flanigan PP (Martens, Summers), 6:31; 3. Wichita, Young PP (Trimm, Painchaud), 7:50; 4. Wichita, Hanson (Flath, Summers). Penalties—Rapid City, Gruenke (holding), 5:32; Rapid City, Lee (too many men bench minor), 7:16; Rapid City, Gruenke (fighting major), 13:37; Wichita, Boogaard (fighting major), 13:37; Rapid City, Penner (fighting major), 13:38; Wichita, Lizon (fighting major), 13:38; Rapid City, Peto (hooking), 14:54.
Scoring—5. Hanson (Flath, Summers), 2:46; 6. Rapid City, Masters (Lee, Brannon), 10:10; 7. Wichita, Lutz (Hanson, Flath), 16:04. Penalties—Wichita, Flath (tripping), 5:41; Wichita, Madden (interference), 7:51; Rapid City, Wray (tripping), 11:28; Rapid City, Wray (hooking), 14:00; Wichita, Flath (tripping), 19:41.
Scoring—8. Wichita, Trimm (Inman), 12:26. Penalties—Wichita, Reaney (hooking), 2:05; Wichita, Lowe (holding), 2:37; Wichita, Wight (roughing) 8:16; Rapid City, Penner (cross checking), 10:25; Rapid City, Penner (fighting major), 12:28; Wichita, Lizon (fighting major), 12:28; Rapid City, Sawyer (fighting major), 12:29; Wichita, Boogaard (fighting major), 12:29; Rapid City, Peto (roughing), 13:28; Rapid City, Peto (slashing), 13:28; Wichita, Summers (roughing), 13:28.
Power play—Rapid City 0 for 6, Wichita 2 for 7
Shots—Rapid City 7-13-5—25; Wichita 13-12-7—32
Saves—Rapid City, Conway 6 saves on 9 shots, Boron 20-23; Wichita, Regan 23-25