Knowing he was going to score was more important to RG Flath than knowing how.
Not that Flath didn’t have a plan. He’s been working on shootout moves and strategies, trying to improve his own game and the fortunes of the Thunder, which lost its first four shootouts this season.
With one shot Flath accomplished both, scoring for Wichita in the fourth round of a shootout with Allen and giving the Thunder a 3-2 win Saturday night at Intrust Bank Arena.
Flath skated toward Allen goalie Aaron Dell with an organized aggressiveness, swiftly put a shot past him, and moved back down the ice just as quickly to accept congratulations from his teammates. His actions reflected a player who knew the result before it happened.
“Anytime you have confidence, you obviously feel good about yourself and you believe in yourself,” Flath said. “When you do, you have better results. You have to go in with a plan, you have to see what the goalie is doing, but you read and react.”
Thunder coach Kevin McClelland has bemoaned Wichita’s lack of pure scorers for shootouts, where highly-skilled shooters typically have the most success.
Flath, a scorer but not an electrifying one with eight points in 22 games, took McClelland’s words to heart by spending practice time on shootout maneuvering, but an out-of-body experience was necessary to become the sniper that McClelland envisioned.
“You have to know what your strengths and weaknesses are,” Flath said. “Some guys can make unreal moves, and some guys you have to keep it more simple and try and find ways (to score).”
Allen’s Gary Steffes scored to start the shootout, necessitating two goals from Wichita to win in the first five rounds. The odds of that seemed long considering the Thunder’s recent history, but Ian Lowe improved them by matching Steffes’ Round 1 score.
Also improving Wichita’s chances was goalie Tim Boron, who appeared to shake off pain while stretching to make saves throughout the night. He stopped four Allen shots in a row after Steffes scored, removing the need for a fifth Thunder shot after Flath scored in the fourth.
“Going into the shootout, if you’re a fan sitting in the stands you’d say, ‘Oh, we’re going to lose,’ especially with the skill that they’ve got,” McClelland said. “But guys dug deep, and a couple guys scored, and Boron stood tall in the shootout.”
Wichita played well enough to win in regulation, setting the tone with early physicality that offset Allen’s scoring capabilities – the Americans have outscored opponents 114-68.
The Thunder overcame an early deficit, tying the score 1-1 in the first and taking the lead on Danick Gauthier’s second-period goal.
Unlike Allen, which settled into a deliberate pace after taking the lead, Wichita stayed aggressive and created more scoring chances, but none were converted and the Americans tied it on the power play in the third.
The Thunder’s resiliency was exhibited without captain Theo Peckham, a former NHL defenseman who left the team to play in Slovakia. Wichita managed to limit one of the ECHL’s top offenses and, at least briefly, become one of the top offenses with Flath’s self-assuredness.
“To finally win one in a shootout, it was great,” Flath said. “I’ve talked to (assistant coach Jason Duda) about working on shootout moves and stuff, thought about it over the break a little bit. I owe Dudsy.”
Scoring—1. Allen, Ty. Ludwig (Schwartz, Young), 3:30; 2. Wichita, Lowe PP (Miller, Duval), 14:42. Penalties—Allen, Combs (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:05; Wichita, Milan (unsportsmanlike conduct), 4:05; Wichita, Trebish (hooking), 5:52; Allen, Descoteaux (delay of game), 14:31; Wichita, Milan (tripping), 19:31.
Scoring—3. Wichita, Gauthier (unassisted), 12:45. Penalties—Allen, Schultz (fighting major), 4:30; Wichita, Milan (fighting major), 4:30; Allen, Schultz (cross checking), 14:34; Allen, Gens (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:45; Wichita, Lowe (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:45.
Scoring—4. Allen, Schaafsma PP (Steffes, Ludwig), 8:38. Penalties—Wichita, Lowe (tripping), 1:33; Allen, Lyon (boarding), 4:18; Wichita, Tulupov (boarding), 6:55.
Allen—Steffes yes, Costello no, Combs no, Ludwig no, Schaafsma no. Wichita—Kashirsky yes, Lowe no, Gauthier no, Flath yes.
Power play—Allen 1-4, Wichita 1-3. Shots—Allen 6-8-9-4-0—27, Wichita 15-11-3-2-1—32.
Saves—Allen, Dell 29-31; Wichita, Boron 25-27.