Part of playing in the finals involves players convincing themselves that the other team is a sworn enemy, even if the underlying feeling between them is mutual respect.
The Thunder and Allen have had no problem with that, probably because their rivalry began long before the Central Hockey League finals. It developed last season, when the teams had the top two records in the league, intensified this year and has finally reached a boiling point during this series.
The mutual respect appears to have disappeared and shared hatred has taken over. During Game 2, won by Allen 5-2 to even the series 1-1, 13 players earned penalties for fighting in the third period, the culmination of a season full of disdain.
Wichita, coming off its first postseason loss after a CHL-record nine straight victories, hosts Game 3 Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena; Game 4 is Sunday in Wichita before the teams return to Allen for Tuesday’s Game 5.
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"We’ve been chirping back and forth throughout the whole year," Allen defenseman Trevor Ludwig said. "They’ve got guys that like to chirp, we’ve got guys who like to chirp. It’s just part of the game, and if it gets a little out of control, the only way to settle that is a little fisticuffs."
The standards for "a little" fisticuffs probably would have been met, or perhaps exceeded, early in Tuesday’s third period. Fights broke out everywhere, with at least eight players engaging as officials struggled to gain control.
It became even more difficult for officials to establish order as the period went on, turning the game into more of a series of bar fights than a competition to decide the best team in the league.
The tone for such a series was set no later than the end of Game 1, when the teams fought in the corner after the final whistle and left the ice yelling at each other. Game 2 saw a carryover of that tension, with two teams determined to establish a physical edge.
"It’s almost like life and death right now," Thunder forward Les Reaney said. "Whoever doesn’t get that fourth win in the series, it’s going to be a painful one. We’re going to do everything we can to get that fourth win. (Thursday) I think we stuck up for ourselves.
"You’ve got guys flopping around and diving all over the ice, looking for calls and getting away with it, it’s frustrating. If we have to, I guess we’ll do it again — we’ll take care of it ourselves."
Such accusations went both ways, as Allen was claiming Nathan Lutz gouged the eye of Americans defenseman Mike Berube during a pileup. Circumstantial evidence backs that up, as Lutz earned a match penalty for intent to injure and faces a possible suspension.
Reaney’s idea of letting the players take care of it themselves implies that officials let the game get out of hand by failing to call previous penalties when the game was becoming more physical.
"It’s a highly intense game," Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. "When you see certain things that get a blind eye thrown at them, it causes a little bit of frustration."
Any strategy regarding gaining an advantage by playing more physical was gone by the third period in Game 2. With Allen holding a 4-1 lead at home and Wichita having removed goalie Torrie Jung, the outcome was virtually decided. All there was left to do was attempt to settle differences.
That didn’t happen, and while the series will determine a league champion, it might not cool the hostility between the teams. Thunder forward Matt Robinson said Wichita is greatly anticipating Game 3. Winning is obviously the primary objective, but the possibility of more fighting isn’t a drawback.
"Most likely, the intensity will be like this the whole series," Robinson said. "I don’t think we really like each other."