BLOOMINGTON — Jake Durflinger said he was “in the right place at the right time” when he intercepted a pass in the neutral zone for the Bloomington Thunder.
As he moved into the high slot, from his right he heard Vlad Dzhioshvili’s voice — clear and loud.
“Vlad was screaming at the top of his lungs, so all I had to do was drop it to him and he had a good shot,” said Durflinger.
Dzhioshvili whistled home the go-ahead goal with 5:47 left in third period Friday, boosting the Thunder to a 2-1 win over Sioux City in front of 807 fans at U.S. Cellular Coliseum.
“I was hoping (Durflinger) was going to pass it to me and he did. I was a little surprised for a second,” said Dzhioshvili, who put a low wrister from the right dot past Musketeers goalie Matiss Kivlenieks. “He’s a big goalie and he drops down. The far side kind of opened and I just put it over the pad.”
Six days after a 32-save shutout of Green Bay, rookie goalie Gabe Mollot-Hill backed an impressive effort from the Thunder defense with 28 stops to halt Sioux City’s 11-game winning streak. The only blemish was a second-period power play goal by Marcel Godbout.
“I thought it was two pretty good hockey teams, very structured and disciplined teams. We’ve always played close games with them and I didn’t expect anything different,” said Thunder coach Dennis Williams, who saw rookie Cameron Burke score the team’s first goal.
“Both teams had some great opportunities offensively, with great saves by both goalies. I really liked the way our team played for 60 minutes.”
Bloomington improved to 10-8-3 overall and 7-2-1 in their last 10. Sioux City slipped to 15-4-1 overall, but 2-3-0 on the road after dropping the opener of a two-game set. Saturday’s rematch at the Coliseum starts at 7:05 p.m.
“Coming in, everyone’s talking about how they’re the No. 1 team,” said Durflinger, who played for Sioux City before coming to Bloomington. “No one was talking about how good of a hockey team we are, so hopefully that sent some waves through the league and lets them all know we’re here to play.”
After a scoreless first period, the Musketeers broke through midway through the second period on a power play. Connor Vance sent a rink-wide pass to Godbout, whose heavy one-timer from above the right circle eluded Mollot-Hill.
But the Thunder pulled even when Zach Mirageas triggered a strong transition with four minutes left in the period. Alec Mehr’s wrister from along the right boards caught Kivlenieks in the right shoulder and ricocheted straight into the air. As the puck came down, Burke worked around a defender to flick the rebound into the opening.
“It was a really great play by Zach. He got it up to the post guy fast and from there to Mehrzie,” said Williams. “(Kivlenieks) wasn’t able to handle that one off his shoulder. Kudos to both Burkie and (Griffin) Lunn for going right to the paint, stopping net front.”
Sioux City, which hit the post twice in the first period, had an apparent go-ahead goal waved off in the third after JC MacLean buried an open rebound following a shot off a draw. But the referee ruled the puck was played with a high stick.
Once the Thunder took the lead, they clamped down on defense while maintaining pressure. Kivlenieks, who made 32 saves, couldn’t get off the ice for an extra attacker until there was less than 20 seconds left — and after he did, the Musketeers still weren’t able to fire off a shot.
“We don’t try to change our game based on their game,” said Dzhioshvili, whose team-leading eighth goal matched his total from last season. “But if we keep playing in the offensive end, they obviously can’t score.”