The mixed-martial artists who fought at Intrust Bank Arena last weekend may be asked back on Saturday — Game 3 of the Central Hockey League finals is going to need an undercard.
Allen’s 5-2 win over Wichita on Thursday, which tied the best-of-seven series 1-1, was marred — or highlighted, depending on how you look at it — by a third period that included more than 100 penalty minutes. Most of those were the result of fights, some of which went without penalties because they were happening at the same time as other fights.
Two players, both from the Thunder, earned game misconduct penalties and several more left the ice early because the time on their penalties exceeded the time on the clock. But facts can’t sum up the bedlam that occurred over the final 20 minutes. Nothing can, really, except possibly the emotions that lingered afterward.
"It’s the finals," Allen defenseman Trevor Ludwig said. "We’ve got two good teams here, two passionate teams, and obviously that’s going to happen when it gets out of control on the scoreboard."
Oh, yeah — the scoreboard. Shortly after failing to score during a 5-on-3 advantage during the second period, Wichita tied it 1-1 on a goal by RG Flath. The Americans scored three goals over the next three minutes, and the 20 minutes between periods did little to cool the Thunder’s frustration in its first playoff loss..
The first, second, third and fourth fights occurred about four minutes into the final period. It produced 46 penalty minutes and sent Wichita enforcer Erick Lizon to the locker room with a game misconduct for instigating one of the fights.
No player on the ice at that time wasn’t brawling except for goalies Kevin Regan and Allen’s Aaron Dell, but none of them got it out of their system, either. The fighting continued until the final horn, which should have been a bell to get the teams back to their corners.
"They tried pushing us out of their barn tonight and we stuck up for ourselves," said Wichita forward Les Reaney, whose physical play early may have helped lead to the third-period fisticuffs. "We’re a good team and we’re not going to let that happen. The officiating isn’t going to take care of it, so we had to do it ourselves."
The CHL added officials for the finals, but two referees and a pair of linesmen were no match for the angry hockey players they were trying to control. Some may have argued that their allowance for hard-hitting play early may have led to the events of the third period.
"I’m not going to comment on that," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "You saw it. It needs to be addressed. ...Make the right calls."
The Thunder’s rivalry with Allen may have once been based in respect, but that idea was diminished each time the next of 13 players who drew a third-period fighting penalty was sent to the box or to the showers.
The finals were anticipated because it would finally determine whether league-leading Allen or Wichita, separated by one point during the regular season, was the better team. The next five games will determine the league champion, but they’ll also decide which team is the toughest, meanest, and most capable of channeling animosity into production.
Even the coaches weren’t immune to Saturday’s bad blood. McClelland and Allen’s Steve Martinson jawed across the benches during one of the breaks to sort out the penalties. It didn’t appear good-natured, but McClelland insisted it was, saying, "That’s my buddy."
"Allen has gone through the playoffs trying to intimidate teams, and I think we’re definitely not going to be intimidated by them," said Thunder forward Matt Robinson, who was penalized for an illegal check to the head in the third. "We’ll answer the call anytime they ask us to or we even ask them to. It’ll be an intense series.
"It kind of fuels the fire a bit, you see them celebrating like they already won the championship out there. That’s why it’s a seven-game series. Even though we lost 5-2, you just shake that off and get ready for Saturday. I know guys are already looking forward to Saturday."
With fights after every whistle, it would seem all bets are off. But Allen defenseman Mike Berube was the apparent victim of an eye-gouge during one of the pile-ups and Ludwig accused the Thunder of fighting dirty.
The 164 penalty minutes on 52 infractions may have just been a preview of what is to come. It may not reach the level of Thursday’s fracas — or maybe it will — but the last punch in the series certainly hasn’t been thrown.
The fallout could include suspensions resulting from Reaney’s and Nathan Lutz’s misconduct infractions or Lizon’s instigating penalty. Some of Allen’s players could be in danger of discipline, as well.
"I don’t think it’s quite out of our system," Ludwig said. "I think if a situation happens like this again where the scoreboard is kind of lopsided, emotions are probably going to get out of hand. The refs do what they can to keep it under control, but sometimes as players we control it ourselves."