Matt Robinson earned his reputation as a shooter back when he was learning how to play hockey in British Columbia.
No one knew this better than Adam Russo, the goalie for the Arizona Sundogs who just so happened to grow up in the same Canadian town as Robinson and just so happened to defend the goal for the Wichita Thunder last season.
So when Robinson received a sharp pass from Matt Summers in front of Russo with Game 1 of the Central Hockey League first-round series on the line, Russo knew Robinson would slap the puck his way as soon as he touched it.
Nearly two decades of knowledge went into Robinson’s knowledge to hold off, which caught Russo off-guard and allowed Robinson to score the winning goal in overtime of the Thunder’s 4-3 victory over the Sundogs.
Game 2 is Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena.
“He knows whenever I get close, I always shoot it,” Robinson said. “I thought maybe I should change it up this time. Luckily, I froze him and had an open net to tuck it in. Maybe I can do that once or twice more.”
It was stunning that it had to come to that game of mind trickery for the Thunder to pull out the victory.
Goals by Summers and Andrew Martens gave Wichita a 2-0 lead and it had at least a one-goal lead for more than 53 minutes of the game.
“And there were times where it could have been 4- or 5-0,” Robinson added.
But the Thunder allowed Arizona to hang around and paid for it when a bizarre play resulted in the game’s equalizer with 1:03 left in regulation and gave Russo a chance to play spoiler against his former team.
A faceoff won by Arizona went right to its trigger man, who fired a wild slap shot that was sailing easily high and wide of the goal. But the puck deflected off a Wichita defender and ricocheted in to tie the score.
“A lucky break for them there,” Wichita goalie Torrie Jung said. “But we shouldn’t have even been in that position.”
The players said they knew they would have to create their own intensity with a sparse crowd due to Wichita State’s Sweet 16 game.
“Whoever was out there in those stands wanted to be here and they were rooting like hell for us,” Summers said. “Sounded like 20,000 out there to me.”
But Summers said Wichita needs to learn to not play passively when it plays in the lead. In the future, that might cost them. But on Thursday night, Robinson’s heady play was good enough to lift the Thunder to a 1-0 series lead and maintain home ice advantage.
“It was good that it happened fast and didn’t last long,” Robinson said of the overtime period.
Scoring — 1. Wichita, Summers (Hanson, Madden), 5:38. Penalties — Hanson, Wichita (boarding), 9:03; Kyrzakos, Arizona (high sticking), 10:09; Hanson, Wichita (interference), 18:18; Flath, Wichita (cross checking), 19:13.
Scoring — 2. Wichita, Hanson (Martens), 0:24; 3. Arizona, Larocque (Kyrzakos, McCready), 3:31; 4. Wichita, Reaney (Young, Trimm), 8:40. Penalties — Purves, Arizona (tripping), 1:17; Robinson, Wichita (boarding), 4:16; Reaney, Wichita (goalie interference), 6:20; LeBlanc, Arizona (tripping), 13:19.
Scoring — 5. Arizona, Nehring (Tulupov), 4:33; 6. Arizona, McCready (Morgan), 18:57. Penalties — None.
Scoring — 7. Wichita, Robinson (Summers, Young), 3:17. Penalties — None.
Power plays — Arizona 0 for 5, Wichita 0 for 3.
Shots — Arizona 9-7-9-1 — 26; Wichita 11-10-6-1 — 28.
Goalies — Arizona, Russo 24 on 28 shots; Wichita, Jung 23 on 26 shots.
T — 2:37. A — 2,166.