After rallying in the final seconds and defeating Idaho in overtime on Saturday night, the Thunder exponentially increased the improbability quotient on Sunday.
Emergency goaltender Kevin St. Pierre was forced into duty after starter David Shantz left due to injury after surrendering three first-period goals. The first shot against the 40-year-old St. Pierre, who hadn’t played professionally since 2010-11, put Idaho ahead by three goals in the second.
Wichita rallied again, scoring three unanswered to send it to overtime. There, Sunday’s unlikelihood caught up and Idaho’s Carson McMillan finished off a hat trick for a 5-4 win at Intrust Bank Arena.
“I’ve been playing men’s league,” St. Pierre said. “But this is the first time I’ve skated in almost three weeks because I’ve been driving the bus. I didn’t start the game and sat for almost a whole period, so it’s a little tough. It’s a good challenge, a fun challenge, good times.”
As the Thunder departed the ice, many of the 6,011 in attendance rose to their feet. The loudest ovation was for St. Pierre, known as “Frenchie,” a Junior Thunder assistant coach who spent the morning with his team in Tulsa and hustled to join his new one just before the 5:05 p.m. start.
The Thunder had won its previous 10 games with St. Pierre on the roster even though 17-season veteran, who played for Wichita from 1995-97, didn’t get in any of those games. He was needed Sunday after Grant Rollheiser was injured the night before.
“Frenchie is a pretty quiet guy in our organization,” Thunder coach Kevin McClelland said. “Behind the scenes, you look at him — he drives the bus, he coaches the Wichita Junior Thunder, he helps out my goaltenders all the time on the road. He was 10-0 as the backup, now he finally got to get in and we come close to getting him a win. It’s just a great story.”
The second-period goal on St. Pierre put Idaho ahead 4-1 and seemed to spell disaster considering his recent inexperience. But Idaho didn’t just fail to score again until the third period, the Steelheads rarely shot.
Idaho took 11 shots against Shantz in less than a period but had 16 midway through the third. The inaction allowed St. Pierre to adjust to the speed of the game and begin to rely on his instincts.
“The more the game went on, the more comfortable I felt,” St. Pierre said. “It’s been a long day for me already. I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew Shantz was hurt and I didn’t know if he would be able to play, or not play, until I got here. …The guys worked hard for him and for each other and came back and got a big point (in the standings).”
Wichita’s defense allowed it to control possession for most of the second and third periods, and the Thunder outshot Idaho 31-12 after the first. Goals by Christian Isackson, Domenic Alberga and Kale Kerbashian tied it 4-4
When McMillan scored the game-winner, St. Pierre sunk to the ice. But that wasn’t the reason he nearly began crying after the game – it’s because he was thinking of 12-year-old Gabriel and 14-year-old Abby in attendance.
“I think for me, the thing I’m going to remember most,” St. Pierre said before emotions stopped him, “…my kids were here to see it.”
Scoring—1. Idaho, McMillan (Rutt, Basaraba), 1:57; 2. Idaho, Bouvet-Morrissette (Fallon, Rutt), 2:38; 3. Idaho, McMillan (Basaraba, Carroll), 3:39; 4. Wichita, Lowe (unassisted), 16:55. Penalties—Idaho, Panzarella (fighting major), 4:13; Wichita, Lizon (roughing, fighting major), 4:13; Wichita, Lizon (boarding), 14:51; Idaho, Carroll (hooking), 17:15.
Scoring—5. Idaho, Jean (Bouvet-Morrissette, Baldwin), 0:19. Penalties—Idaho, Yuen (too many men bench minor), 6:37; Idaho, Rutt (slashing), 9:53.
Scoring—6. Wichita, Isackson PP (Springer, Osklanski), 1:18; 7. Wichita, Alberga (Neal, Huff), 9:20; 8. Wichita, Kerbashian (Nemcik, Harris), 15:48. Penalties—Idaho, Yuen (too many men bench minor), 0:45; Wichita, Reum (holding), 2:10.
Scoring—9. Idaho, McMillan (Fallon), 3:55.
Power play—Idaho 0-3, Wichita 1-4. Shots—Idaho 11-4-6-2—23, Wichita 12-16-12-3—43. Saves—Idaho, Komm 39-43; Wichita, Shantz 7-10, St. Pierre 11-13.