(RAPID CITY, SD) – Alec Baer scored for the first time since rejoining the team, but Mark MacMillan’s two-goal night and Stuart Skinner’s stellar goaltending late in the game propelled the Wichita Thunder to a 2-1 win, and a split against the Rapid City Rush on Saturday night.
For a second straight night, the Thunder not only struck first, but both got the first goal of the game from Mark MacMillan and left the first 20 minutes with a one-goal lead. The only goal of the period came at 7:40 of the frame, when MacMillan came down in close range of the Rush goal, delayed, and waited for Rush net-minder Michael Bitzer to make a decision on the sequence. With Bitzer out of his net, MacMillan ripped around the net to the right circle and fired it into the Rush net to put Wichita up 1-0 after one (Ralph Cuddemi and Cam Reid assisted).
The Rush squared the game within the last six minutes of the period, but surrendered a Wichita go-ahead strike over a minute later to remain trailing into the third. With 5:16 left in the second, following two minutes of four-on-four hockey, the Thunder turned the puck over on the far side of their zone, and Chris Leibinger got a handle of it as he encroached the net. Leibinger waited and found Alec Baer wide open on the back door, and Baer finished his past with a shot in the open net of Wichita’s Stuart Skinner, squaring the game at 1-1 while scoring his first goal in his return to the Rush (Leibinger and Brandon Fehd assisted). Exactly 1:07 later, however, MacMillan struck for his second of the night, which proved to be the final tally of the contest. With 4:09 remaining, Marc-Olivier Crevier-Morin fired a shot from the blue line inside the Rush zone, and received a deflection by MacMillan past Bitzer to reclaim a 2-1 lead (Crevier-Morin and Ralph Cuddemi assisted). The Rush, despite outshooting the Thunder by 26-16 margin in the final two periods, couldn’t solve Skinner again, who came up with a number of quality saves, including with Bitzer pulled to give the Rush an extra-attacker advantage in the final minute. The Thunder outlasted the rally and took a 2-1 win to split the series.
Michael Bitzer stopped 21 of 23 shots on net in his first start since December 8th at Wichita, suffering the loss in the effort (3-5-0-1).
Following the Christmas holiday break, the Rush will resume their five-game home-stand against the Idaho Steelheads, starting on Friday, December 28th. Puck drop for the first of three games between the division rivals is slated for 7:05 p.m. MST at Premier Home Mortgage Ice in Rushmore Plaza Civic Center.