BLOOMINGTON — Desperate for a victory, the Bloomington Thunder squeezed out every drop of energy they had Friday.
Sixty-four minutes and 48 seconds into a tussle with the Louisiana IceGators, Darick Ste-Marie made all that effort worthwhile.
After Max Strang made seven saves during a 3-on-3 overtime, Ste-Marie stole the puck in the neutral zone and scored off a nifty forehand deke move, treating a U.S. Cellular Coliseum crowd of 2,067 to a thrilling 3-2 Southern Professional Hockey League victory.
“I just forechecked on the guy and got a lucky bounce, he lost the puck so I had a breakaway,” said Ste-Marie. “I was on my forehand and I just stopped, tried to shoot high and it went in.”
Tyler Noseworthy and Burke Gallimore scored second-period goals for the Thunder, who won for the first time in two weeks to improve to 2-5-0.
Strang, who finished with 36 saves, denied three straight point-blank chances with just over one minute left in the extra session. Huge stops on Louisiana’s Chris Wilson, Jeremy Boyer and Jason Cohen kept Bloomington in the game.
“Stranger making some unbelievable saves there in overtime was exactly what this team needed,” said Thunder coach Brian Gratz.
The victory was not without a sour note for the Thunder as leading scorer Kevin Walrod had to be helped off the ice after a hard hip check took him down in the offensive zone in overtime.
“To see our boys kind of rally and get the ‘W’ for ourselves and for him too, that was a good thing,” said Gratz, adding that Walrod’s injury would be evaluated today.
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Matt Zenzola made 22 saves for the IceGators (6-2-1), who got a first-period goal from Jake Trask and a shorthanded tally by Adam Stuart.
An eight-second outburst midway through the second pushed the Thunder into the lead. Kyle Walrod got the first play started by charging in along the right boards.
He dropped the puck off to Noseworthy, who sent a drive toward the net that glanced off a stick in the crease and ricocheted around Zenzola’s stick side to tie the game at 1-1.
“That first goal with Wally driving wide, they come to him and he’s able to tap it back to Nosy,” said Gratz. “He didn’t have much of an angle but we had a good drive that got their goalie in between.”
Off the ensuing faceoff, Travis Granbois connected with Burke Gallimore as he streaked through the slot alone and beat Zenzola for his first Thunder goal.
But special teams betrayed Bloomington yet again in the final minutes of the second. With the Thunder on a power play, Wilson pressured the puck in Bloomington’s defensive zone. Stuart charged the slot unchecked and buried Wilson’s centering feed for the third shortie against the Thunder in two games.
While the Gators outshot Bloomington 15-5 in the first, their only goal of the period came directly off a Thunder miscue. A costly turnover behind the net resulted in the puck finding Trask alone above the crease for a tap-in past Strang.
“Their goals were a direct result of giveaways but we didn’t let ourselves get down,” said Gratz. “We came back and responded the way we needed to.”
The Thunder and IceGators complete the weekend series today with another 7:05 p.m. contest that closes Bloomington’s four-game homestand. Louisiana hosts the Thunder for two contests next weekend.
“We got back on the winning track,” said Ste-Marie. “We got a win tonight but we’ve got to come strong tomorrow.”