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Bunz and Fullerton

Bunz and Fullerton separated at center ice.

After deciding to watch two new “local” ECHL teams this season (the Tulsa Oilers and the Wichita Thunder) in order to cover their transition into the ECHL league, I have to confess that I’ve grown very fond of the Wichita Thunder. The Thunder had a rather rough start to their season (who doesn’t love an underdog!) but all along I’ve seen positive elements from this team, the players and their growing confidence and capabilities. They have slowly developed chemistry and have been able to defeat teams who were, by all rights, better than the Thunder. That’s why watching two of this weekend’s set of games in Brampton and Elmira was just downright painful.

The Thunder are a better team than what I witnessed this weekend, however for a number of reasons I wrote about for the Brampton series of games they were unable to actually prove that point.

The Elmira Jackals are a very good team, make no mistake about it — they are a skilled and tough team physically. Before last night they had committed 394 penalties in minutes (PIM), about 100 more than the Wichita Thunder. Today they are ranked 2nd in their East Division and 4th overall in the Eastern Conference. The moment the puck drops the Jackals strike, and yesterday’s game was no exception, as the Jackals scored their first goal at 59 seconds into the 1st period with a goal by Jackals’ captain Matt Tassone (assists from Mike Seidel and Nick Tuzzolino). No surprise when they repeated that at 44 seconds into the 2nd period with a goal from Steven Shamanski (with an assist from Justin Daniels) to put the Jackals up 2-0 over the Thunder.

At 10:43 into the 2nd period Wichita’s Todd Hosmer was able to put the Thunder on the board to cut the Jackals’ lead by half with a power-play goal (with assists from Dan Milan and Erick Lizon).  However, from that point on it was all Elmira — another goal in the 2nd, and 2 more in the third for a final 5-1 win for Elmira.

Per Team Time Goals
1st ELM 0:59 M. Tassone (assists M. Seidel, N. Tuzzolino)
2nd ELM 0:44 S. Shamanski (assist J. Daniels)
2nd WIC 10:43 T. Hosmer (assists D. Milan, E. Lizon) — PP
2nd ELM 13:42 M. Seidel (assist Z. Tolkinen)
3rd ELM 8:54 T. Nesbitt (assists K. Hart, K. Tochkin) — PP
3rd ELM 12:16 J. Daniels (assists T. Nesbitt, Z. Tolkinen)

At 13:10 into the 3rd period the Elmira play-by-play broadcaster declared “all heck’s breaking loose” as the players’ frustrations culminated in a line brawl. Facing a 5-1 defeat is incredibly frustrating for a team like the Thunder who knows they can and have indeed played far better hockey this season. And as for Elmira, there is a bit of gleefulness on their part for dominating the game so decisively, so this outcome is not surprising, but it is incredibly disappointing.

By the end of the melee the Elmira Jackals had added another 101 PIM and 19 infractions to their already high PIM for the season (now at 495), and the Thunder added 86 PIM and 16 infractions (now at 378). At the end of tallying the penalties, both teams ended up with one line on the ice and 4 spare players on the bench.

Without doubt some suspensions will be announced today, and the Thunder will be among that group. In total at the end of the game, the two teams made up for 188 combined PIM, 10 fighting majors, 7 game misconducts and 4 misconducts. It wasn’t pretty, nor skillful, nor good hockey. It was ugly and pointless and didn’t change the score at all. The Wichita Thunder still lost 5-1.

Some fans might love a good fight, but the only winner last night was Elmira since the only thing that counts in hockey is the final score.

The Wichita Thunder will face the Tulsa Oilers at the BOK Center on Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. and I am hoping to see the skilled, refocused Thunder team reappear that night.