The only easy part of the aftermath of the Thunder’s 4-3 loss to Allen on Friday night was describing the emotion.
“I’m pretty (ticked) off,” forward Matt Summers said.
Those feelings came naturally for Summers, who apologized for rambling as he tried in vain to reach an explanation for a defeat that, according to statistics and to the eye test, probably shouldn’t have happened.
Wichita outshot the Americans 41-20, a lopsided total that included an empty barrage over the second half of the third period, and the Thunder generally appeared to be exerting more effort.
While the Thunder was using grit to achieve its goals, though, Allen was scoring in a more opportunistic fashion. Wichita was ultimately undone by a short-handed score that tied it 3-3 in the second, and by a power-play tally that proved the game-winner.
“That’s a tough one, yep,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “But those type of games are going to happen. Right now, at this time of the season, in the positioning we’re in, it’s a tough one. Even more so with a couple of soft goals. I’m not talking soft, I’m just talking (poor) plays by our players. That short-handed goal should never happen.”
If Wichita played more aggressively, perhaps the best term to describe the Americans is “pesky.” The Thunder never controlled the scoreboard but Wichita established the tone and a physical edge to make it seem as though it was in command.
The Thunder’s first lead came at 3-2 in the second, but Allen knotted it fewer than 90 seconds after RG Flath put the Thunder ahead late in the period. That short-handed goal by Spencer Asuchak was one of multiple breakdowns from an otherwise stout defensive unit, as the Americans never had more than nine shots in a period.
“When you let a team like that hang around, you never know what goal is going to be the difference,” Summers said. “If you bear down there, it could be the difference-maker. It’s tough when it seems like we outplay them but they sneak in a late one and take the two points.”
Wichita appeared fatigued in the minutes following Allen’s go-ahead goal, but that didn’t last long. The Americans played more defensively and Wichita attacked, controlling the puck for essentially the entire final 10 minutes and frequently rushing the goal.
The Thunder got into the crease several times and established positioning for a possible rebound goal, but one never materialized. As ferocious as Wichita’s push became, Allen goalie Bryan Pitton was equally steadfast, anchoring a defense that was porous until he became involved.
“We thought it was coming,” Summers said. “Each line kept building off the line before. We were humming in their zone a couple times, we just couldn’t put them past. …Competitive. (Pitton) was just competing. Wish we would have had a chance to go into overtime with him.
“It just sucks, battling that hard and them getting a late one.”
Wichita missed a chance to gain two important points that could have helped it back into the playoff picture. The ninth-place Thunder is one spot out of the postseason with 17 games to play and also failed to reach .500 for the first time this season.
But Allen was desperate, too, bearers of a six-game losing streak and with a roster that includes six contributors either injured or suspended.
“We’re running out of time here,” McClelland said. “Soon it’s going to be too much of a mountain to climb, so we’ve got to make sure we put this one behind us and get back on the horse (Saturday).”
Scoring—1. Allen, Power (Asuchak, Kerbashian), 11:17; 2. Wichita, Flath (Summers, Martens), 16:54. Penalties—Allen, Lessard (hooking), 5:27; Wichita, Donaghy (slashing), 8:29; Allen, Lessard (diving), 12:22; Wichita, Dudas (slashing), 12:22; Wichita, Lizon (roughing), 15:10; Allen, Ehrhardt (roughing), 15:10; Allen, Power (too many men bench minor), 17:17.
Scoring—3. Allen, Power (Kerbashian, Asuchak), 0:10; 4. Wichita, Flath PP (Summers, Dudas), 9:46; 5. Wichita, Summers PP (Klempa, Dudas), 16:56; 6. Allen, Asuchak SH (Schaasfma, Pitton), 18:37. Penalties—Allen, Hendrikx (roughing), 7:39; Wichita, Flath (roughing), 7:39; Allen, Schaafsma (hooking), 7:56; Allen, Zion (slashing), 12:51; Wichita, Flath (slashing), 12:51; Allen, Schaafsma (holding), 13:03; Allen, Kerbashian (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:13; Allen, Martinson (obscene language bench minor), 16:56.
Scoring—7. Allen, McMillin PP (Zion, Ludwig), 6:50. Penalties—Wichita, Klempa (high sticking), 6:10; Wichita, Donaghy (cross checking), 8:19; Wichita, Donaghy (no category misconduct), 8:19.
Power play—Allen 1-3, Wichita 2-6. Shots—Allen 8-9-3—20, Wichita 14-13-14—41. Saves—Allen, Pitton 38-41; Wichita, Brown 16-20.