Amidst what seemed like utter chaos on the ice — players sliding, tripping and falling in a frantic effort to collect the loose puck — Thomas Beauregard somehow managed to keep his cool.
The presence and patience of the Thunder forward was rewarded when he corralled the puck after a nifty pass from Alex Bourret and scored the game-winning goal in Wichita's 5-3 comeback victory over Fort Wayne on Tuesday night at Intrust Bank Arena.
More than 7,000 fans looked on while the Thunder, in perhaps the most exciting game of the season, rallied from a 2-0 deficit against Fort Wayne's Nick Boucher, who has been the Central Hockey League's best goaltender.
The Thunder (14-7) won its third straight home game. Fort Wayne (13-7) had won 8 of 9 games.
"We played 60 minutes tonight in front of a big crowd," Beauregard said. "Everything is great."
Aaron Davis and Bourret scored three points each, and Beauregard chipped in two. The trio played a key role in the game's most important sequence.
With the score tied at three in the third period, Davis forced a turnover in the corner and slid the puck to Beauregard, who found his path to the net blocked by 6-foot-7 defenseman Brent Henley.
"He is a very tall defenseman, so when I saw him sliding I knew I had no chance," Beauregard said. "Luckily, Bourret was right behind me."
After Beauregard left the puck, Bourret jumped/tripped over Henley and then pushed a pass back to Beauregard, who had skated to an open spot to the right of the net. Beauregard beat Boucher at the 9:01 mark with the game-winning goal. Bourret added an empty-netter for his second goal.
Boucher entered the game leading the CHL in wins (12), goals-against average (2.08) and saves percentage (.930). Even so, the Thunder didn't panic when faced with the 2-0 hole at first intermission, stressed coach Kevin McClelland.
His players agreed.
"We were playing good," Bourret said. "It's just in the first period we gave up two or three breakaways. Against these guys, that's not a good thing to do. We needed the two points tonight. It's a good win."
Matt Robinson and Davis accounted for the Thunder's other goals. Robinson's goal, which gave the Thunder its first lead at 3-2, came off an assist from Davis and Daniel Tetrault. With the assist, Tetrault tied Sean O'Reilly for career points by a Thunder defenseman at 169.
Notes — The Thunder activated Dustin Donaghy from injured reserve and placed Colin Hemingway on the 10-day IR.... Jesse Bennefield, who led the Thunder with 75 points last season, played his fifth game with Fort Wayne. Just recently activated from injured reserve, Bennefield has three points. The Thunder traded Bennefield in the off-season.... Fort Wayne was playing its first game out of the Turner Conference.
Fort Wayne2 0 1 — 3 Wichita0 3 2 — 5
Scoring—1. Fort Wayne, DeAngellis 6 Chaulk 6 (Chaumont, Smith) 3:38 pp; 2. Fort Wayne, Auger 10 (Chaulk, Bennefield) 11:10. Penalties— Wichita, Tetrault (interference) 2:57; Fort Wayne, Chaulk (hooking) 6:09; Fort Wayne, bench (too many men on the ice) 12:40; Fort Wayne, Starenky (hooking) 17:29.
Scoring—3. Wichita, Bourret 8 (Beauregard) 2:23; 4. Wichita, Davis 10 (Robinson, B Hemingway) 8:08; 5. Robinson 9 (Davis, Tetrault) 13:11. Penalties— Wichita, Summers (slashing) :09; Fort Wayne, Starenky (roughing) 12:37; Wichita, Bourret (roughing) 12:37; Wichita, Martens (holding) 13:40; Wichita, Tetrault (roughing) 18:07.
Scoring—6. Fort Wayne, Mele 2 (Thorne, Schrock) 7:59; 7. Wichita, Beauregard 9(Bourret, Davis) 9:01; Wichita, Bourret 9 (unassisted) en. Penalties— Fort Wayne, bench (too many men on the ice) 13:25.
Power play—Fort Wayne 1-4, Wichita 0-4.
Shots on goal—Fort Wayne 9-11-7—27, Wichita 12-10-6—28.
Goaltenders—Fort Wayne, Boucher 23 saves on 27 shots. Wichita, Russo 24 saves on 27 shots.