Goaltender Ian Keserich was dropped by the Wichita Thunder after he started the season 0-3 and promptly picked up by the rival Tulsa Oilers, who were in town for a hockey game on Saturday evening.
Naturally, then, one way or the other, the story of the night was going to be about Keserich, who was playing the role of the discarded goalie trying to shut down the team that dumped him.
At the end of the game, the happy ending belonged to Keserich, who wasn't brilliant by any means but good enough to hold off the Thunder 7-4 at Intrust Bank Arena, snapping the team's four-game winning streak at home.
In two seasons, Keserich was 1-22-1 for the Thunder. Now he's 1-0 against them.
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The likeable Keserich certainly didn't seem all about the revenge after the victory, his fifth straight for the Oilers. Standing just outside the visitor's dressing room, he said it was good to see friendly faces in the crowd, good to see his friends on the Thunder. In fact, the Thunder's Chris Greene returned a couple books before the game that Keserich had loaned him.
"It's hard coming into a place that didn't want you and trying to play against them," Keserich said. "I definitely played with a lot of nervous energy. I kind of let it get to me in the beginning, but as the game progressed I felt like I just kind of shook it off."
Tulsa, which entered the game ranked 16th in the CHL on the power play, took the lead for good with man-advantage goals in a two-minute span in the second period. Tulsa's Jack Combs, left alone in the slot, scored the second one at 8:37 — a goal that put Tulsa up 4-2 and prompted a loud round of boos from the fans. Seconds later, there were cheers — when Wichita Thunder coach Kevin McClelland removed Peter Delmas (now 0-2-1 with a 4.78 goals-against) and replaced him with standout rookie Marc-Antoine Gelinas.
McClelland was unavailable for comment. Typically, he does not address the team after the game, but he held a closed-door meeting following the loss, which left the Thunder at 10-9-2 overall, 8-3-2 at home.
Tulsa, which tied the game at two in the first period with a power-play goal by Tom Dignard, was 3 of 5 with the man advantage.
"Our power play was better than theirs tonight," Tulsa coach Bruce Ramsay said. "That was probably the story of the game."
The Thunder certainly had its chances to rally.
Trailing 4-3 late in the second and with order temporarily restored by Gelinas, the Thunder wasted a pair of opportunities — both on shorthanded breakaways. Aaron Davis stole the puck and passed ahead to Troy Schwab, but his shot was wide. Just seconds later, Bobby Hughes, who had four points on Friday night, raced ahead and tried to solve Keserich with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Keserich made the save, one of 33 on the night.
"I like playing against this team (the Thunder)," Keserich said. "They're a great club. I got all that nervousness out, like I said before, and now I'm ready to just keep rolling.
Ramsay, a former Thunder player, said he thinks Keserich simply benefitted from a fresh start in Tulsa.
"I think he played pretty well for Wichita last year; he just didn't have a lot of help in front of him," Ramsay said. "It's tough when you lose 19 games in one city. I'm sure the fans weren't too happy with him. Sometimes the best thing is a new place, a new venue, and it sparks things."
Tulsa2 2 3 — 7 Home2 1 1 — 4
Scoring—1. Tulsa, Standish 2 (Walls, Fleck) 1:58; 2. Wichita, Gale 8 (Scoran, Martens) 4:24 pp; 3. Wichita, 3. Scoran 8 (Robinson, Gale) 7:38; 4. Tulsa, Dignard 1 (Beausolei, Steffes) 14:59. Penalties—Tulsa, Barker (holding) 4:14; Tulsa, Steffes (holding) 9:39; Wichita, Davis (high sticking) 9:59; Tulsa, Linder (interference) 10:13; Tulsa, Fleck (roughing) 11:27; Wichita, Martens (roughing) 11:27; Wichita, Scoran (hooking) 14:16; Wichita, Scoran (tripping) 17:51.
Scoring—3. Tulsa, Reed 10 (Combs, Erickson) 7:06 pp; 4. Tulsa, Combs 11 (Costello, Reed) 8:37 pp; 5. Wichita, Schwab 7 (Bennefield, Looby) 10:15; 6. Wichita, Richards (Greene, Galbraith) 15:58; Penalties—Wichita, Greene (goaltender interference) 5:18; Wichita, Greene (slashing) 7:37; Wichita, Greene (boarding) 15:15; Tulsa, Barker (holding) 17:48.
Scoring—8. Tulsa, Beausolei 8 (Steffes, Erickson) 3:14; 9. Tulsa, Hulak 4 (Steffes, Beausolei) 12:05; 10. Wichita, Richards 2 (Greene, Galbraith) 16:25; 11. Tulsa, Kotsopoulos 2 (unassisted) 19:12 sh en. Penalties—Tulsa, Eastman (slashing) 12:45; Tulsa, Barker (roughing) 17:29.
Power play—Tulsa 3-5, Wichita 1-7.
Shots on goal—Tulsa 11-9-7—27, Wichita 12-15-10—37.
Goaltenders—Tulsa, Keserich 33 saves on 37 shots. Wichita, Delmas 12 saves on 16 shots; Gellinas 8 saves on 10 shots.