Thankfully, Jesse Dudas’ song choice was in no danger of losing its appeal, because he’s probably been sitting on it for a while.
The Thunder finally earned a home victory, beating Brampton 3-2 Wednesday night at Intrust Bank Arena. Dudas, the DJ for the night, picked the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil” as the victory song, with Mick Jagger’s “Woo woo” in the chorus surely echoing the Thunder’s internal celebration.
Wichita was winless in its first nine home games, often seeing hockey games that looked promising at one point — like Wednesday’s did starting in the second period — slip away. This time, the Thunder held on, surviving a late goal by the Beast and the barrage of shots that followed.
Goalie Taylor Nelson, starting for the second straight game after beginning the season as Torrie Jung’s backup, embodied the Thunder’s steadfastness by holding off Brampton’s aggressiveness while Wichita matched it.
“It’s a good feeling and the boys definitely needed it,” said Thunder forward Matt Robinson, who scored the second of the Thunder’s two second-period goals. “It’s only one game, but we needed that game and it felt like an eternity.”
Brampton took the lead early in the second period when Nelson was unable to follow the puck’s multiple misdirections before wobbling past him. As Nelson regained his steadiness, the Thunder rediscovered its special-teams success after failing on its first four power-play attempts.
The law of averages caught up with the league’s second-best power-play unit, though, as Andrew Martens kept a clearing attempt in the offensive zone. Martens’ shot was unsuccessful, but Tomas Klempa converted the rebound.
The Thunder is near the bottom of the Central Hockey League in scoring but has found success on the power play, scoring on 21.3 percent of its attempts, second in the league. That statistical anomaly carried itself out on Wednesday as Wichita notched two extra-man goals.
“We’re just trying to keep it simple,” Robinson said of the Thunder’s power-play approach. “We find that when we do have trouble, it’s when we’re trying to make cute plays and do the little tic-tac-toe things. I’m guilty of that sometimes myself. We’ve been trying to keep it simple, get it up to the net, bring it to the (defense) and get guys to the net.”
Wichita built upon its special teams success Wednesday, a rare achievement for a team which has scored multiple even-strength goals in four of 52 periods. Less than four minutes after Klempa tied it, Robinson scored on a 2-on-1 break that gave the Thunder the lead.
It became 3-1 when Ian Lowe, who recently returned from 30-day injured reserve, delivered his first goal on another power play aided by more hustle from Martens. Robinson attributed Wichita’s ability to extend its lead to a positive attitude, and Wichita would later put that to the test.
“That’s what Martens brings,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “A lot of people don’t understand that he is so valuable to this hockey club.”
Brampton pulled its goalie on a power play to gain a 6-on-4 advantage with less than three minutes to go, and the Beast scored shortly after. It ended the power play but gave Brampton momentum that allowed it to continue attacking.
The Thunder, however, met Brampton at that heightened energy level. Nelson finished off his strong night in net with some final impressive saves, and Wichita created enough traffic in front of the goal to contain the flurry.
In the hallway where Wichita’s dressing room was located was an unfamiliar sound – noise. The eerie quiet of losses piling up was replaced by teammates shouting over Jagger and his “woo” sounds.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” McClelland said. “There’s still a long way to go. …There’s a lot of positives again tonight.”
Penalties—Wichita, Lowe (holding), 1:34; Brampton, Collins (hooking), 4:23; Wichita, Donaghy (slashing), 6:47; Brampton, Milan (interference), 10:35; Wichita, Robinson (tripping), 15:15; Brampton, Qualie (high sticking), 17:45; Brampton (Milan), 20:00.
Scoring—1. Brampton, MacIsaac (Collins, Michel), 3:11; 2. Wichita, Klempa PP (Martens, Booras), 6:40; 3. Wichita, Robinson (Summers, Dudas), 15:23. Penalties—Wichita, Dudas (tripping), 1:11; Brampton (Matheson), 5:08; Brampton, Vandehogen (roughing), 13:00; Wichita, Linden (roughing), 13:00; Brampton, MacIsaac (slashing), 16:35; Wichita, M. Wilson (holding), 18:47.
Scoring—4. Wichita, Lowe PP (Martens, Booras), 14:58; 5. Brampton, VanderVeeken PP (Collins, Fournier), 17:40. Penalties—Wichita, Robinson (high sticking), Brampton, Fournier (hooking), 10:24; Brampton, Milan (tripping), 14:36; Wichita, Flath (boarding), 17:01.
Power play—Brampton 1-7, Wichita 2-8. Shots—Brampton 10-8-9—27, Wichita 6-11-10—27. Saves—Brampton, Rollheiser 24-27; Wichita, Nelson 25-27.