Wichita Thunder coach Kevin McClelland is old school so he definitely doesn't gush, but he came awfully close recently when discussing forward A.J. Gale, describing many of the young winger's plays as "electrifying."
Add yet another goal to the list of such moments.
On a night when several players could legitimately claim the role of hero, Gale provided the biggest goal, ripping a slap shot into the net to complete an exciting comeback and give the Thunder a 4-3 overtime victory over Bloomington in front of 5,574 fans on Saturday at Intrust Bank Arena.
The win was especially satisfying because the Thunder, playing shorthanded due to league suspensions, battled through fatigue and overcame a 3-0 deficit.
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"It's a good character win for us," Gale said. "It was imperative for us to come back and at least force overtime. Our work ethic is there. Everyone here is pulling the rope."
The Thunder (24-17-4) appeared headed for its fourth straight loss as Bloomington (25-17-2) steadily built a lead against goalie Kevin Beech, who was making his first start for the Thunder. When Joe Booras scored at the 6 minute, 58 second mark of the second period, the Thunder was down 3-0.
Although he is new in town, Beech still had an accurate reading on the Thunder.
"I've kind of followed this team all along, and I knew they're never out of a game because they can score a lot of goals," he said. "If these guys can get a couple, the floodgates can kind of open. I just saw it firsthand — the resiliency this team has."
Jesse Bennefield spurred the comeback, scoring off a rebound on the power play late in the second and adding another goal early in the third to trim the margin to 3-2. Bennefield credited McClelland for striking the right tone during a second-intermission talk to the team.
"Coach gave us a kick in the butt, but he wasn't too hard on us," Bennefield said. "He just told us to keep plugging away and we'd get rewarded, and that's what happened."
With an extra attacker on the ice, Matt Robinson set up the game-tying goal, skating with the puck wide behind the net and then passing it into the slot, where gritty Lance Galbraith emerged from traffic to score and even the game at 3 with only 47 seconds left in the third period.
"That's part of Galby's game — he beared down in front of the net," Bennefield said. "He's done that a few times for us this year.""
In overtime, Bloomington was called for too many men on the ice _ a costly error that the Thunder took full advantage of when Gale got the puck near the point, faked once and then blasted in one of the most dramatic goals of the season. The 5-foot-11 Gale, who is now tied with Aaron Davis for most game-winners on the team with 4, was surrounded by his teammates after the score.
"The guys dug deep tonight," McClelland said. "The last two nights, they've logged a lot of minutes. Tonight, we just brought some more character back into our room."
Bloomington2 1 0 0 — 3 Wichita0 1 2 1 — 4
Scoring—1. Bloomington, Holmberg 15 (MacPhee, Williams) 4:28; 2. Bloomington, Bezeau 6 (DeGagne, Snowden) 13:09. Penalties—Wichita, Robinson (holding) 15:04; Bloomington, Booras (hooking) 16:25; Wichita, Bennefield (slashing) 16:58; Bloomington, Mazur (hooking) 17:39.
Scoring—3. Bloomington, Booras 16 (Galvin, Sheahan) 6:59; 4. Wichita, Bennefield 25 (Galbraith, Schwab) 17:05 pp. Penalties—Bloomington, Galvin (interference) 9:15; Bloomington, bench (too many men on the ice) 11:29; Bloomington, Rodger (slashing) 11:43; Bloomington, Mazur (roughing) 13:45; Wichita, Gale (tripping) 14:45; Bloomington, Bezeau (elbowing) 15:40; Wichita, Martens (interference) 19:11.
5. Wichita, Bennefield 26 (Galbraith) 4:49; 6. Wichita, Galbraith 12 (Robinson, Schwab) 19:13. Penalties—Bloomington, MacPhee (slashing) 15:51; Wichita, Robinson (slashing) 15:51; Bloomington, Mazur (high sticking) 7:45.
Scoring—7. Wichita, Gale 22 (Martens, Robinson) 2:37. Penalties_Bloomington, bench (too many men on the ice) 2:10.
Power play—Bloomington 0-3, Wichita 2-10.
Shots on goal—Bloomington 7-8-10-0_25, Wichita 10-18-5-1—34.
Goaltenders—Bloomington, Phillips 30 saves on 34 saves; Wichita, Beech 22 saves on 25 shots.