The standing ovation Thunder goalie Kevin Regan received in the third period of Wichita’s 3-0 win over Missouri on Friday night may have just been the fans showing their appreciation for Regan’s most impressive save of the night.
To Regan, whose slow start mirrored that of the Thunder, the recognition meant that the fans still believed in him even though he took the loss in his three previous starts.
Regan saved all 25 shots he faced in an outing that offered reassurance after the Thunder’s 1-3-1 start. He gained confidence and brashness throughout the night, reflected when he left the crease by several feet to stop a shot after sliding on his knees.
"I appreciate the fans sticking with me and coach (Kevin McClelland) sticking with me after a tough start," Regan said. "It’s a long season, we’ve got a long way to go, but it’s good to get it pointed in the right direction."
Regan’s performance during his first three games was far from disastrous, but his winless record was symbolic of the near misses Wichita endured with consecutive losses on the road last weekend.
The Thunder combined to outshoot Quad City and Bloomington 86-59 but couldn’t come up with the goal or save that could have turned a pair of one-goal defeats.
Regan made all the saves Friday, and his excellence highlighted the fleeting nature of early-season trends. His 1-3-1 record still isn’t pretty, but his goals-against average dropped to 2.23, an elite mark more in line with a career that has taken Regan to the upper levels of minor-league hockey.
"I was disappointed with my start," Regan said. "That was kind of killing me and I don’t know if I was giving us any confidence. We were outshooting teams by a lot but they would come down and score, and I know that’s not easy for the guys. I was glad to make a few saves."
Missouri goalie Mathieu Corbeil often played just as well as Regan for the first quarter and a half, and Corbeil’s first-period miscue appeared to be all the Thunder was going to get against him.
Chad Painchaud, now carrying a six-game scoring streak, snuck in a goal that ricocheted off Corbeil’s pads to give the Thunder the lead four minutes on. From that point until midway through the second, Corbeil was impressive with acrobatic saves and steadfastness against the Thunder power play.
In the second, Wichita began to feed off Regan. Several Regan saves kept the flow of the game at a high pace and in the Thunder’s comfort zone. The Thunder used their favored style to score two goals in less than three minutes.
Defenseman Nathan Lutz, in his return from injured reserve, fired one in from just inside the blue line, and Kevin Young added a shorthanded goal to give Wichita a three-goal lead that seemed insurmountable against Regan.
"That’s what you want, when you’re in a tight game, to get those saves and then put your opportunities away at the other end," McClelland said. "That’s exactly what happened tonight."
The Thunder’s win could have been more lopsided, but three shots hit the post in the first two minutes of the second period.
Wichita’s dominance was important not just to eliminate negative feelings from the first two weekends, but to establish itself against Missouri. The Thunder plays the Mavericks twice more this weekend and can pull ahead of them in the early-season standings.
"It’s huge for us, especially with the weekend we had last weekend," Painchaud said. "We know we have them three times in a row, and it’s defnitely big to start it off like that. Hopefully we can go there (Saturday) and continue that."