|Posted on July 10, 2016 at 4:30 AM|
The Dunedin Thunder notched their first win of the season as they beat the Botany Swarm by a final score of 5-4, with the game-winner coming from Gints Leitis in the final minute of regulation of an incredibly hard-fought game.
The Thunder started well, getting on the board early in P1 as Lachlan Frear scored a powerplay goal.
The Swarm responded with strong offensive pressure, but Thunder goalie Villem-Henrik Koitmaa defended his net well with several sterling saves, including one on Teemu Rantanen from beneath the dots. He also faced a huge shift from the Swarm's top line which saw him make five or six saves in quick succession.
The Thunder scored their second goal after getting the Swarm bottled up in their own end, with Gints Leitis once more picking the top corner and sending the puck in.
The Swarm closed out the period with a flurry of shots and an attempted buzzer beater, but were not able to convert one.
The Swarm came out strong to start the second period, but again saw a large percentage of shots going just wide of the Thunder goal, and some more great saves from Koitmaa. A turnover in the neutral zone saw the Thunder get a rare 4-on-1 break into the Swarm's zone, and while goalie Michael Hopkinson made a spectacular save on the initial shot, his defense were unable to clear the rebound and it was tapped in by Otto Sillanpaa to increase the deficit to three goals.
About five minutes later, it was Ritchie Hopkinson's moment to shine, as he finished off a great five-man rush into the Thunder's zone by batting the puck past Koitmaa to get the Swarm on the board.
The initial burst of momentum gained by that goal was momentarily punctured as Shaun Harrison capitalised on a turnover in front of the Swarm's net and threw the puck to Sillanpaa who collected his second goal of the evening.
Rantanen was assessed a 10min misconduct in the immediate aftermath, leaving the Swarm a defender down for the latter part of the second period and the first few minutes of the third.
Undaunted, the Swarm got right back to work, and almost immediately had their first powerplay chance of the game as Regan Wilson was given two for tripping. The Swarm capitalised in just 6s, as Jamie Lawrence's shot from the point went straight through and hit the back of the net to bring the Swarm within two.
Fast and furious action followed, with some heart-stopping chances on both sides.
The Thunder's Nicholas Donaldson was assessed a minor for interference, and this time the Swarm capitalised in 30s, with Jordan Challis sending a laser-focused shot five hole, leaving the end of P2 score at 4-3 to the Thunder.
It was clear the third was going to be a wild one, and it started that way, with Hopkinson called on to make two huge sprawling pad saves to rob the Thunder of an early chance. Shots went both ways, with the majority of possession by the Swarm, but the Thunder defense were not leaving anything on the bench, and manages to put sticks and bodies in the way of shots.
Midway through the period, Jordan Challis scored with another blistering shot to tie the game, sending the fans in the stands to their feet in appreciation.
Fast and furious north-south action followed, along with a lengthy period between whistles where neither side was able to capitalise, keeping the fans on the edges of their seats. With just under two minutes remaining, it looked as if we were in for an overtime affair, but a funny hop of the puck off the boards and an unfortunately timed turnover as a result saw Leitis pick up the puck with an open net in front of him and the opportunity to put his team ahead with just 61s on the clock.
The Swarm battled hard in the attempt to tie the game again, but despite pulling their goalie for an extra attacker, the clock wound down with the Thunder up 5-4, taking the win with an incredible defensive effort after being outshot 59-18.
This game was streamed and can be viewed on nzihl.tv.