by Brett Wiseman

Winston-Salem, NC - Gus Ford, along with multiple contributions from the Czech Line and more stalwart goaltending from Greg Hussey were the perfect mix for a 6-2 Carolina Thunderbirds victory in Game 1 of the 2023 Commissioner's Cup Final.

The Danbury Hat Tricks controlled much of the pace the first half of the 1st period, taking a 1-0 lead on a Brendan Sheehan goal.

A three minute stretch in the opening frame turned the entire game on its head.

Ford found a hole between the shoulder of Brian Wilson and the crossbar and put home one of the most wicked wrist shots in recent memory at 16:27 of the first to tie the game at 1. The league MVP wasn't done there. Ford sniped home another just a minute and 22 seconds later to give the Thunderbirds the lead for good.

The Czech line controlled possession the entire final minute of the first, and Petr Panacek jammed home his 8th goal of the playoffs with just 2.8 seconds remaining in the opening period to make it 3-1 Thunderbirds. It was a backbreaking goal for Danbury, and Carolina never looked back.

The Hat Tricks made pushes throughout the remaining 40 minutes of play, but Greg Hussey again stood tall in goal for the Thunderbirds stopping 39 of 41 Danbury shots.

Jan Salak continued Carolina's scoring putting home a wrist shot from the high slot in the second. Less than three minutes later, Jiri Pestuka gloved down a pop fly in the high slot and sniped the puck home to put the Thunderbirds ahead 5-2. A late empty netter from Lucas Rowe sealed the deal.

The Thunderbirds take a 1-0 lead in the series into the final home game of the season tomorrow night. Puck drop is set for 6:05 and tickets are available at carolinathunderbirds.com and the Annex Box Office.


by Chris Lynch

Winston-Salem, NC - The Danbury Hat Tricks opened up the Commissioner's Cup Championship Series in Winston-Salem against the Carolina Thunderbirds and fell 6-2 in front of a rowdy and lively crowd at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. 

Brendan Sheehan scored the first goal of the game 6:18 into the game on a brilliant unassisted effort for the Hat Tricks' first Finals goal in franchise history. The remainder of the first period belonged to Carolina, as Gus Ford notched two goals to give the Thunderbirds the lead for good. Patr Panacek recorded one more goal with two seconds left to end the period's scoring at 3-1 for the Thunderbirds. 

Danbury had two power play chances in the second period, one of them an extended five-on-three but failed to capitalize on the longer chance. Gordy Bonnel potted his first goal of the postseason on a power play to cut the deficit to 3-2 7:44 into the second. The Hat Tricks got no closer than that. Jan Salak and Jiri Pestuka potted goals 2:29 apart from each other to send the scoring to 5-2 before the second intermission. 

The Hat Tricks outshot the Thunderbirds 12 to 9 in the third period but couldn't get anything through Gregg Hussey, who stopped 39 of 41 shots on his net for the game. Lucas Rowe added one final goal on an empty net to finish the scoring at 6-2. 

Brian Wilson stopped 42 of 47 shots in the Hat Tricks net. 

Carolina leads the best-of-five series one game to none. 

Game Two of the series is Saturday night at the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. Puck drops at 6:05 PM ET.