WICHITA, KS — Ralph Cuddemi broke a 1-1 tie 21 seconds into the second period, lifting the Wichita Thunder to a 3-1 win over the Rapid City Rush on Friday night. The game marked the first of a three-in-three series with the Thunder that spans to Sunday afternoon.
Both teams left the first period deadlocked at 1-1, with each team scoring a greasy goal less than a minute apart. Wichita jumped on the board first when Chad Butcher fired a shot towards the net of Rush net-minder Steve Michalek. The puck appeared to bounce off of a number of objects in close range and squeaked by Michalek and in, giving the Thunder a 1-0 lead with 4:57 gone by in the first period (Travis Ewanyk and Etienne Boutet assisted). Exactly 59 seconds later, Dante Salituro took the puck behind the net of his fellow Mountain Division All-Star, Shane Starrett, and found Daniel Leavens at the top of his goal crease. Leavens tapped the puck through Starrett’s legs and in, extending his point streak to six games to square the game at 1-1 with 5:56 gone by in the contest (Salituro and Geoff Fortman assisted).
Ralph Cuddemi rifled off a pair of goals in the second period, including the eventual game-winner less than a half-minute into the frame to give Wichita their final lead of the game. With exactly 21 seconds gone by, Nick Latta played a bouncing puck by an oncoming defender on the far side of the Rush zone, and found a wide-open Cuddemi cross-ice in the left-wing faceoff circle. Cuddemi fired a one-timer by Michalek to give Wichita a 2-1 lead (Latta got the only assist). Cuddemi added a second when Jon Puskar forced a bad turnover in the Rush zone and found him in close range. Cuddemi fired a shot between the faceoff circles by Michalek and made it a 3-1 Thunder lead with 11:13 left in the second (Puskar got the only assist).
The Rush had numerous opportunities in the third period to solve Starrett, but the 2018 ECHL All-Star hung tough against the Rush, stopping all 13 shots he saw, including in the final two minutes of play when Michalek was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Wichita staved off the Rush offensive, and earned a 3-1 win to start their three-in-three weekend series.
Steve Michalek, in his first game with the Rush since November 4, 2017, stopped 46 of 49 shots in the loss (3-3-0).
The Rush re-match the Thunder in game two of their three-in-three series tomorrow night. Puck drop for Saturday, February 17th at INTRUST Bank Arena is slated for 6:05 p.m. MST.
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