(Photo Courtesy Lindsay A. Mogle)
Utica, NY- The Springfield Thunderbirds (16-17-6-2) and Utica Comets (18-16-6-1) traded unsuccessful power plays one-by-one on Wednesday night at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, but in the end, an overtime steal and score from a Thunderbirds' rookie put Springfield on top 2-1 in front of a sold-out crowd in Utica.
The Thunderbirds did themselves no favors early in the first in front of goaltender Sam Brittain, who was making his first start in the AHL since April 16, 2016. The netminder did not look out of place whatsoever, though, as he fended off nine first period shots, including two nearly back-to-back Utica power play chances.
At the other end, after being outshot 9-3 in the first half of the period, Springfield bounced back to open the scoring at the end of the period. First, Dryden Hunt fired a fluttering shot behind the net, whereShane Harper dug it out, skated to the left wing circle, and beat Richard Bachman with a rising wrist shot at 17:57.
Harper’s sixth goal of the year brought the Thunderbirds into the second with an advantage thanks to Springfield’s fourth game out of five in which they scored the first marker.
But as has been a problem for Springfield in its five-game slide, holding the lead proved unsuccessful, as Pascal Pelletier guided a Colby Robak pass through Brittain at 4:44 of the second to tie the score.
Later, the Thunderbirds would once again be asked to go to a penalty kill, but this time for four minutes after Ian McCoshen drew blood with a high-stick on Darren Archibald. The Thunderbirds’ penalty kill once again loomed large in the front of Brittain, turning away a Comets’ power play that entered play on Wednesday struggling, having gone just 1 of its prior 20. Brittain’s save total rose to 18 through 40 minutes of play.
The Thunderbirds got a golden chance to break the tie late in the second when Mike Downing took a high stick and drew Springfield its own four-minute power play stretching into the third. On a night when the power plays scuffled both directions, the T-Birds could not register any chances and eventually gave Utica a third power play, but as they had done all night the penalty killers and Brittain kept Utica at bay.
With nothing resolved after sixty minutes, and streaks on the line for both teams, extra time was needed. Unlike in November, when Springfield fell in extra time at the Aud, the Thunderbirds’ young, spunky winger assured a different outcome this time. After Matt MacKenzie missed the net on a pinching shot from the right circle, Jayce Hawryluk pried the puck away from a Comet behind the net, stepped out in front and beat Bachman on a swift backhander to the far post to seal the 2-1 win.
Springfield’s victory snapped its five-game slide, while Utica’s six-game win streak came to an end in the loss. MacKenzie and Kyle Rau were credited with the assists on Hawryluk’s game-winner, his second career AHL goal.
Brittain picked up the win, making 24 saves in his first AHL start since April 16, 2016. The Thunderbirds will return to home ice for two final games before the All-Star Classic on Friday and Saturday against Syracuse and Hershey, respectively.
Interested in being part of the next era of AHL hockey in Springfield? Springfield Thunderbirds Ticket Memberships start as low as $12 per game and feature the most exclusive benefits, including a commemorative jersey. For more information, fans may call the Thunderbirds ticket office at (413) 739-GOAL (4625) or visit www.SpringfieldThunderbirds.com.