The Thunder appeared headed for a stirring third-period rally — the kind of hockey comeback that can propel a team to a lengthy winning streak — but the game against Tulsa on Friday night turned suddenly on a call that Wichita coach Kevin McClelland described as "unacceptable" and "absolutely embarrassing."
McClelland, who generally avoids discussing officials' calls, said he expected to be fined for his comments after the Thunder's 5-3 loss at Intrust Bank Arena.
The certainty of such a punishment didn't result in any self-censorship, however, as an irritated McClelland repeated several times that referee Boone Bruggman should be held accountable.
Trailing 3-1 early in the third period, the Thunder enlivened the crowd of 5,333 with goals by Lance Galbraith and the red-hot Matt Robinson to even the score. At the 15:41 mark, Galbraith was called for interference off a faceoff. Galbraith and a Tulsa player seemed to be battling for position — away from the play — when the penalty was called.
Tulsa's Chad Costello promptly scored the game-winner during the power play. He added an empty-netter for the game's final margin.
"I thought we did enough to win the game," McClelland said. "Obviously, we had someone step in and decide the game for us. That's unacceptable. You try and explain that to 18 guys in the room. To come back like we did... but they (officials) don't have to be held accountable, you know? That call in a 3-3 hockey game. Absolutely embarrassing."
Tulsa coach Bruce Ramsay, whose team improved to 12-13-1, called the penalty "legitimate."
"When you interfere off a faceoff, that's a penalty," he said. "It is what it is. We'll take it. I've been on the other side, too. It's not fun."
The Thunder (11-10-2), which has been one of the Central Hockey League's best home teams, has lost two consecutive games at Intrust Bank, both to Tulsa. The Thunder was on top 1-0 after the first period Friday but could have held a bigger lead; at one point in the period, the Thunder held an 11-1 shot advantage.
"We came out strong, but we missed some opportunities," McClelland said.
Former Thunder goalie Ian Keserich, the winner in both of Tulsa's wins at IBA, stopped 33 shots.
"Ian Keserich stood tall when we needed him to," Ramsay said. "They got the one goal, but it could have been worse."
Tulsa1 1 3 — 5 Wichita1 0 2 — 3
Scoring—1. Wichita, Martens 5 (Schwab, Scoran) 2:33; 2. Tulsa, Beausolei 9 (Hulak) 19:47. Penalties— Wichita, Looby (interference) 3:39; Wichita, Robinson (hooking) 8:26; Tulsa, Walls (roughing) 14:06; Wichita, Hand (roughing) 14:06; Tulsa, Dignard (slashing) 15:53.
Scoring—3. Tulsa, Walls 3 (Kotsopoulos, Standish) 3:33. Penalties— Tulsa, Steffes (tripping) 4:09; Wichita, Davis (tripping) 7:31; Tulsa, Kotsopoulos (slashing) 10:13; Wichita, Davis (holding) 10:28.
Scoring—4. Tulsa, Beausolei 10 (Dignard, Steffes) :38; 5. Wichita, Galbraith 4 (Greene, Looby) 5:23; 5. Wichita, Robinson 13 (Gale, Wight) 6:48; 6. Tulsa, Costello 13 (Linder) 16:49 pp; 7. Tulsa, Costello (Standish) 19:59 en. Penalties— Wichita, Richards (holding) 8:02; Tulsa, Standish (roughing) 10:39; Wichita, Greene (roughing) 10:39; Wichita, Galbraith (interference) 15:41; Wichita, Richards (abuse of officials) 19:58; Wichita, coach McClelland (abuse of officials game misconduct) 19:58.
Shots on goal—Tulsa 9-13-9—31, Wichita 18-7-11—36.
Power play—Tulsa 1 for 7, Wichita 0 for 3.
Goaltenders—Tulsa, Keserich 33 saves on 36 shots. Wichita, Gelinas 26 saves on 30 shots.