They may not be on track to meet in the Central Hockey League championship series again, but Allen and the Thunder have no trouble creating a finals-like atmosphere. Just give them a second.
Immediately after the initial whistle Friday night, Wichita’s Erick Lizon clashed in a lengthy fight with Garrett Klotz that ended with Klotz on the ice and Lizon soaking in the crowd’s cheers.
The brawl led to an energetic and productive first period for the Thunder, which it used to hold off Allen 5-4 at Intrust Bank Arena, topping the team that beat Wichita for the CHL championship in seven games last spring.
Allen began the night tied for first place in the CHL, while Wichita was in ninth place and on the outside of the playoff picture more than halfway into the season. The Thunder proved at least for one night that it can play with its generally more superior rival.
It all started with Lizon, perhaps the league’s most intimidating fighter and one rarely challenged because of his controlled recklessness and his size – 6-foot-4, 225 pounds.
As the players took the ice, the scoreboard clock lost power, apparently giving Lizon and Klotz time to establish their differences and decide to settle them. Klotz connected a few times, but the clash ended when he fell backward to the ice and Lizon briefly stood over him before egging on the approving crowd.
“Tonight we came out with a purpose, had a lot of guys going, had a lot of energy,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “I think the two big heavyweights going at it energized both teams.”
The Thunder was served by that energy, as Tomas Klempa accomplished something almost as difficult as besting Lizon in a fight – getting a goal past Allen’s Bryan Pitton, among the league’s best in net. Klempa’s goal came 35 seconds after the game-opening fight and led to even more momentum.
That lasted until midway through the second period and was spurred by a pair of alert passes from Thunder forward Matt Summers, who first assisted on Klempa’s goal, then on R.G. Flath’s later in the first.
After Ian Lowe’s rebound goal midway through the second, the Thunder led 4-1 and appeared motivated to stretch its lead. But Allen eventually showed the mettle it has used to rise to the top of the standings, scoring a pair of quick goals in the second to cut Wichita’s lead to 4-3.
It seemed somewhat inevitable, given the shots advantage Allen held over the first two periods, that the Americans would turn that into a rally even though Wichita’s David Brown made several impressive saves. More than the shots leading to production, though, Allen was controlling the tempo by frequently controlling possession.
That changed in the third, when the Thunder established a physical edge much as it did in the first. The tangibility of those renewed efforts occurred when Nick McParland’s goal gave Wichita a two-score lead.
“We were just generating a little bit, we had some opportunities,” McClelland said. “Big goal by McParland.”
Allen, much to the Thunder’s familiarity, was primed to put up a fight.
In an ending that revisited the final moments of Allen’s Game 7 win in May, when the Americans tied it late before winning in overtime, Allen pulled within a goal with about three minutes to go, then mounted an aggressive attack that several times nearly resulted in a deadlock.
Brown and the Thunder defense, which included offensive players, too, were ready for the barrage, rebuffing Allen and its extra attacker which almost became literally an extra attacker as a scrum after the game was broken up by officials.