In signing Daniel Amesbury before Saturday’s game against the Thunder, Tulsa attempted to address the lack of toughness on its roster, which has contributed to its cellar-dwelling 8-16-2 record.
The addition paid some dividends. Even though Amesbury decisively lost a pair of fights against Wichita enforcer Erick Lizon, Tulsa seemed game to try to match the Thunder from a physicality standpoint.
What the addition of Amesbury didn’t rectify, however, was Tulsa’s deficiencies in speed, skill and depth. The first-place Thunder used those advantages in a 5-2 win at Intrust Bank Arena that looked like a convincing performance for much of the night and became one in the final minutes.
Wichita outshot Tulsa 35-19 and erased one-goal deficits in the first and second periods. Thunder goalie Kevin Regan made a pair of quick but costly decisions that led to Tulsa goals, but those miscalculations were wiped out by Wichita’s three-goal second period and a pair of scores by Neil Trimm in the final 3:05.
"They definitely came out with a lot of energy and sort of lured us into a run-and-gun type of game, which we don’t want to be playing against them," Thunder defenseman Kevin Young said. "They did a good job coming off the gate really hard and getting us on our heels, then we made a gutsy effort to make a comeback."
The Oilers were happy to show off their new signing. Amesbury, acquired from Columbus (Ga.) of the Southern Professional Hockey League, was sent after Lizon early, and the two engaged in a first-period fight near Tulsa’s bench.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Lizon was bigger than Amesbury by three inches and 25 pounds, and those superior dimensions were evident as Lizon delivered clean punches early in the fight. The punches that Amesbury landed seemed to anger and motivate Lizon, who took Amesbury down before officials intervened.
The two jawed in the penalty box, seemingly setting the stage for a later fight. It happened in the third period after two Thunder goals in 41 seconds stretched Wichita’s lead from one goal to three.
The second fight was far more brief, as Amesbury went down early and Lizon stormed through the tunnel after soaking in the cheers and banging the glass with his fists.
"The first fight, I took him lightly," Lizon said. "I let him hit me, to be honest. I was like, ’Let’s go,’ because he was one of those little annoying runts. The second fight I made sure I wouldn’t let him do anything."
The Oilers followed Amesbury’s leads, engaging in four fights with the Thunder — two in the first period and two in the third. The melees between Lizon and Amesbury were the biggest attractions, though, as fights with Lizon involved always draw boisterous fan reactions.
The fights spawned from a pregame conversation between Lizon and Amesbury, but Lizon said Amesbury didn’t follow through on a promise to fight three times.
"The kid came up to me in warmups and said, ‘Hey, do you want to fight tonight?’ and I was like, ‘Of course,’ " Lizon said. "Why not? That’s pretty much it. As soon as he challenged me, he was in my head and I wasn’t letting him getting away with it. I don’t like getting challenged."
When Lizon and Amesbury fought the first time, Wichita trailed 1-0. Regan approached Gary Steffes outside the crease, but Steffes got off a shot and scored just before Regan could reach him.
Wichita tied it 1-1 early in the second but Tulsa took the lead later in the period. On a Tulsa 2-on-1 break, Regan bit as Ben Gordon feigned a pass before getting a shot past the unsuspecting Regan.
That lead, too, was short-lived. The Thunder tied it within 46 seconds and took the lead less than three minutes after that. Young scored the tying goal and Dave Inman provided the game-winner as Wichita extended its league lead in second-period goals.
"When we’re up by one we don’t need any more to win," Young said. "But our goal as a team is to never take our foot off the gas. We want to keep going and keep pressuring them into mistakes. If we keep the puck in their end, we can really try to smother them in the offensive zone."
First period—1. Tulsa, Steffes (Menei, Gordon), 10:11. Penalties—Tulsa, Amesbury (fighting major), 14:31; Wichita, Lizon (fighting major), 14:31; Tulsa, Menei (fighting major), 14:42; Wichita, Griffith (fighting major), 14:42; Tulsa, Gordon (tripping), 15:45; Wichita, Hanson (slashing), 15:45; Tulsa, Steffes (hooking), 16:26.
Second period—2. Wichita, Reaney (Flanigan), :27; 3. Tulsa, Gordon (Beausoleil), 9:53; 4. Wichita, Young (Trimm), 10:39; 5. Wichita, Inman (Trimm, Flanigan), 13:14. Penalties—Wichita, Flath (slashing), 1:11; Tulsa, Gordon (tripping), 1:48; Wichita, Flanigan (tripping), 4:06; Tulsa, Steffes (high sticking), 4:25; Tulsa, Beausoleil (hooking), 7:12; Wichita, Lowe (tripping), 15:51.
Third period—6. Wichita, Trimm (Summers, Painchaud), 16:55; 7. Wichita, Trimm (Wight, Painchaud), 17:36. Penalties—Wichita, Young (slashing), 7:13; Tulsa, Gordon (holding stick), 8:19; Tulsa, Erickson (fighting major), 13:08; Wichita, Lowe (fighting major), 13:08; Tulsa, Amesbury (fighting major), 17:37; Wichita, Lizon (fighting major), 17:37.
Power play—Tulsa 0 for 4, Wichita 0 for 5
Shots—Tulsa 12-3-4—19, Wichita 13-15-7—35
Saves—Tulsa, Garman 23 saves, 26 shots; Keserich 7-9; Wichita, Regan 17-19