Oklahoma City Blazers Hockey

Blazers Split Series, Defeat Wichita Twice

The Oklahoma City Blazers and Wichita Thunder took part in one of the Blazers’ most physical series so far this season. Proving that the Midwest Division is the toughest division in the Western States Hockey League, Oklahoma City and Wichita battled for a split of the weekend as the Blazers took two wins out of the three-game weekend series.

Friday night saw the Blazers open up the scoring as Ivan Bondarenko pushed a Viliam Seliga shot into the net to kick off the Teddy Bear Toss festivities, sending nearly 180 bears to the ice to be donated to The Children’s Center Rehabilitation Hospital in Bethany, OK. Wichita answered back moments later by scoring twice in a fifteen-second span to jump ahead 2-1. OKC answered back just sixteen seconds after that to tie things back up at 2-2, from the stick of Ross Bartlett. With just under four minutes remaining in the first period, David Good put Wichita back up 3-2, but Kirill Romanov only let that last for a few seconds as he tied it at 3-3 to send the teams to the locker room tied.

No scoring occurred in the second period, but it would be Peter Cicmanec that took control for the Thunder in period number three as he scored the go-ahead goal and sealed things up with the empty netter to give Wichita the 5-3 win to start the series. Phil Babb made 18 saves in the loss, while Adam Conkling turned aside 33 shots.

Head Coach Tyler Fleck was looking for the Blazers to rebound from the loss as both teams took to the ice on Saturday. Drennen Atherton took the reigns in goal for the Blazers, while Wichita stuck with Conkling in net. Things got off to a rough start as Cicmanec continued his scoring ways to open up the scoring for Wichita on a 2-on-1 breakaway in the early part of the first period. Later on in the period, OKC found themselves on a 4-on-3 penalty kill where Zach Paxman stole the puck from the Thunder and took it down the ice where he put it past Conkling to tie things up midway through the first. Wichita would take the lead later in the period as David Good picked up a pass from Oskar Gullstrom and snuck it past Atherton to put the Thunder up 2-1 after the first.

Midway through the second period, Oklahoma City tied things up on the power play as Drake Johnson sent a pass down low for Martin Hajsman, with Hajsman finding Tomas Rubes streaking into the slot to score and tie things at 2-2. With another power play chance to start off the third, Rubes would find Bondarenko down low, and a cross-ice pass to Hajsman for the one-timer made it a 3-2 Blazers lead just six seconds into the man-advantage. Rubes would seal things up for the Blazers a few moments later with his second goal and third point of the night as he intercepted a pass from Wichita’s Tyler Crites in front of the net and backhanded it into the open net to give OKC the 4-2 win. Atherton picked up 33 saves in the win, and Conkling made 34 in the loss.

The series finale on Sunday started off with a bang, and both teams kept the tempo throughout as they stuck with Atherton and Conkling in net. Right off of the opening faceoff, Kody Smith and Austin Smith dropped the gloves. Kody Smith showed why he is one of the top heavyweights in the WSHL as he knocked Austin Smith to the ice with a single right punch to pick up the decision. Villiam Seliga opened the scoring for OKC midway through the first, holding the puck until he found Conkling out of position and sending it off of the stick of Henrik Igel into the net. The Bondarenko and Hajsman power play connection continued a few minutes later as Hajsman picked up the cross-ice pass and scored to make it 2-0 OKC.

As the fireworks continued, the game then featured the two of the top heavweights in the WSHL going toe-to-toe as Kody Smith dropped the gloves again, but this time with Wichita captain Jack McClelland. Both players squared off and traded punches, but Smith got the upper had with a huge right to rock McClelland and the linesmen began to make their way in between the two. A minute later, the Blazers jumped out to a 3-0 lead as Kirill Romanov drove hard to the net and scored on another power play chance. The Thunder hung in at the end of the first as Cicmanec picked up his fourth goal of the weekend to make it 3-1 after the first period.

Out of the locker room, Oklahoma City began the second period by jumping out to a three-goal lead once again. Bondarenko intercepted a pass deep in the Wichita zone and his initial shot was turned aside. Vitali Mikhailov jumped in and his shot was turned away as well, but Bondarenko was right there for the rebound and he made it a 4-1 OKC lead 21 seconds into the period. Zach Paxman put the Blazers up by four later on in the period as Corey King sent the puck from behind the Wichita goal to Paxman in front for the goal. Wichita would get one back to close out the period, but Oklahoma City went into the locker room with a 5-2 lead after two.

In period number three, Romanov would pick up the lone goal four minutes in as he picked up a big rebound from a Paxman shot to give Oklahoma City the 6-2 win, closing out the weekend with Oklahoma City picking up two out of three wins. Atherton picked up 49 saves in the win as he improved to 9-1-0 on the season.

Corey King, back in the lineup after recovering from a broken jaw suffered in the opening weekend of the season, picked up an assist in three games over the weekend. Oklahoma City also picked up defenseman Bryce Patterson prior to the series. He added an assist as well in his Blazers debut weekend.

Oklahoma City currently sits in second place in the Midwest Division, two points ahead of the Springfield Express with two games in hand and 11 points behind leading-El Paso. The Blazers have 8 games in hand over the Rhinos.

The Blazers will now head to Las Vegas for the Western States Shootout, with games coming up against the Idaho Steelheads, Southern Oregon Spartans, Ogden Mustangs, and Long Beach Bombers to close out the 2016 calendar year. All four games will be broadcast live on WSHL TV. You can find the schedule of the Shootout games here. Stay tuned for previews and updates from Vegas, coming up this week.