The Wings didn’t beat first-place Milwaukee Friday night at Hartman Arena, falling 12-10 after a furious fourth-quarter comeback, but Wichita may have found the formula for doing so.
The Wave, which has allowed an MISL-best 61 goals, is difficult to score upon but not always proficient offensively. Milwaukee creates scoring chances via its superior defense, keeping games low-scoring but not always close.
An urgent Wings team didn’t allow Milwaukee to play its style in the fourth quarter. Trailing by eight points (or four two-point goals), Wichita began to play more aggressively, setting up its offense on Milwaukee’s side of the field instead of its own and forcing the tempo.
Wichita tied it with four goals in fewer than six minutes. The Wings stayed on the attack but succumbed to a tiebreaking Milwaukee goal with less than five minutes to go. A shot by Tiguinho was narrowly saved by Wave goalie Marcel Feenstra in the final seconds, preserving the result.
"If you ask me, I think that’s the secret," said Wings forward Freddie Moojen, who scored during Wichita’s rally. "If we can press more, we put them in trouble. We started pressing them and we could have won the game."
The only thing the Wings had to build upon going into the fourth quarter was a goal to start the second half that cut Milwaukee’s lead to 6-2. Wichita played with elevated energy briefly after that but was deflated when the Wave quickly answered the score then added another third-period goal to go ahead by eight.
The Wings quickly cemented its foundation for a comeback in the fourth, though. Chris Lemons, who provided two goals in the quarter — his first two of the season — outran Milwaukee pursuers to get an open shot that he converted. Tiguinho ignited a restart goal to Moojen, then assisted on the following two goals.
After the tying goal by Daniel Villegas, the Wings bench emptied to celebrate the accomplishment, a culmination of Wichita’s urgency when it needed it the most. All that kept the Wings from their most exciting and satisfying victory of the season was Milwaukee’s late goal and Feenstra’s even-later save.
"I feel like what we did in the fourth quarter was a choice," Lemons said. "I think that if we decide to continue doing that, we’re going to be getting on the winning side of things.… You want to take the good and the bad because unfortunately the best way of learning is to make mistakes. We want to carry that over and learn what not to do, but also we need to take what we did well."
Playing with that level of energy may be difficult for the Wings or for any teams, and coach LeBaron Hollimon said seeing the team pace itself would be optimal.
With more than half the season over, Wichita is focused on getting to the playoffs and Saturday night’s game against Chicago, which leads the Wings by half a game for fourth place, has more repercussions than the game against Milwaukee.
"It’s physically taxing to play that way," Hollimon said. "You’ve got your attention on this game, but with one eye knowing that you’ve got a game tomorrow that in the grand scheme of things, if you’re comparing the two games, that game is more important for us to get the proper result.
"We’ve got to figure out how to be effective when we don’t need that urgency and how to be effective when we need the urgency. How to change our rhythms within the game."
Scoring—Milwaukee, Hewerton (unassisted), 11:05. Penalties—None.
Scoring—Milwaukee, Oliveira (Hammes), 0:31; Milwaukee, Perera (unassisted), 6:22. Penalties—None.
Scoring—Wichita, Ten Eyck (unassisted), 2:04; Milwaukee, Perera (unassisted), 6:47; Milwaukee, Hewerton restart (Oliviero), 13:28. Penalties—None.
Scoring—Wichita, Lemons (unassisted), 1:45; Wichita, Moojen restart (Tiguinho), 2:11; Wichita, Lemons (Tiguinho), 4:45; Wichita, Villegas (Tiguinho), 5:54; Milwaukee, Hewerton restart (Oliviero), 10:02. Penalties—None.
Power play—Milwaukee 0 for 0, Wichita 0 for 0. Shots on goal—Milwaukee 14, Wichita 19. Saves—Milwaukee, Feenstra 14 on 19 shots; Wichita, Sanaldo 8 on 14.