Friday, 12.30.2016 / 10:10 pm CT
By Alex von Keudell / Photo: Caroline Rea
Following a 13-day break from hockey, the Wildcats did not let a bit of rust slow them down and cruised to a 3-1 victory to kick off their three-game road series against the Topeka RoadRunners.
Despite just returning from their hiatus, the Cats were not as refreshed as had been hoped. They had to play without the services of Aleksi Poikola, Blake Ripley, CJ Regula and Ilya Skvortsov. Poikola and Ripley were out with shoulder injuries, while Regula and Skvortsov served suspensions.
Dressing only ten forwards and moving Heiser up from defense did not seem to stump the Cats in the first period, as the void appeared to be filled seamlessly.
Wichita Falls opened the scoring while shorthanded after Seamus Donohue outworked two RoadRunners along the corner boards and jabbed the puck up for Ricky Carballo, who beat Ryan Snowden through the five-hole to score his first shorthanded goal of as a Wildcat.
The Cats would go on to dominate the middle period, drawing four power plays and outshooting the opposition 17-5.
Though they would not score on any of their opportunities on the man-advantage, Domantas Cypas buried his first goal in over three months after he found the puck on his blade in the mid-slot, where he waited for the right lane to present before finishing a wrist shot past a screened Snowden and into the net.
Just over five minutes later, Ryan Orgel spun the puck to the front of the net, where CJ Walker and Steven Tillie stood uncontested. Walker tried to twist it into the net after locating the puck, which ultimately rolled to Tillie at the side of the net. Tillie would tap home his 12th goal of the season, tying Carballo for the team lead.
Jared Dempsey, playing in his third consecutive start for the Cats, was unsolvable through the first forty minutes. He stopped all 22 shots the Runners threw his way.
In the closing period, the Runners came out with all they had. They unleashed 17 shots on Dempsey’s net, forcing the Wildcats’ goaltender to fight to his last breath for a shutout. Unfortunately for the net minder, Topeka’s Max Harper was set up near the bottom of the right circle, where he was able to wrist a low shot on the blocker side.
Despite being given two more power plays in the waning minutes of the game, the Runners could not slip another puck past Dempsey. The Cats were able to ride out their lead they’d built throughout the game and ended their three-game losing skid with a regulation victory.
Dempsey made 38 of a possible 39 saves en route to another First Star of the Game performance. He earned his 10th victory as a Wildcat. Despite a valiant 36/39 effort, Snowden was given his 9th regulation defeat on the campaign. The Wildcats and RoadRunners will meet again for the second game of their three-game series on New Year’s Eve at Kansas ExpoCentre at 7:05 pm CT.