Dayton, OH — The Wichita Thunder beat the Dayton Gems 5-3 at Hara Arena on Friday night.
A.J. Gale recorded a hat trick, which included the game-winning goal, while the Thunder overcame a third period deficit during an eventful final frame.
Down 3-2, Aaron Davis scored a hard-fought goal at 5:45 to knot the score. Matt Robinson led a two-on-one rush through the right circle and made a last second pass to his left that Davis punched past the right of Gems' goaltender Jeff Jakaitis. Shortly after, Jesse Bennefield appeared to have given Wichita a 4-3 lead, but the goal was overturned and the game remained tied.
Gale struck with 3:25 left in regulation, slipping the puck past Jakaitis's right on another key pass from Robinson. The goal was the end result of sustained pressure deep in the Gems' defensive zone.
With an extra attacker, Matt Larke shot past Marc-Antoine Gelinas with 26.2 seconds left in regulation, but the goal did not count because of a delayed penalty against Dayton. Gale buried the empty net with three seconds left to complete the hat trick.
The Thunder built a 2-0 lead midway through the first, beginning with Gale's shorthanded goal at 10:10. Gale stole the puck in neutral ice and skated into the left circle before beating with a slapshot. Bennefield made it 2-0 at 11:34, driving in a puck from the slot that Dayton was unable to clear. Brett Lutes put the Gems on the board, scoring on a two-man advantage at 15:05.
Larke tied the game with a goal from the slot at 8:38 in the second. Mike Vaskivuo lifted the puck below the hashmarks where Larke turned and fired high on Gelinas. Kyle Bochek gave the Gems their first lead of the night at 16:26, connecting on a rebound in front of the crease left by Greg Labenski's shot from the point.
Gelinas saved 17 of 20 in the win. Jakaitis was 39 of 43 in the loss. Each team was 1 for 4 on the power play.