Hat Trick Pushes Carolina to Regular Season Finale Win
By Zak DeBeaussaert
Winston-Salem, NC - The Carolina Thunderbirds closed the regular season on a high note with a 7-1 victory over the Danville Dashers and a hat trick from perhaps the most unlikely of sources, their Head Coach. Andre Niec signed a celebrity contract ahead of the finale as a response to fans who called for him to play on home ice after his previous game was played on the road in Elmira.
Niec delivered in a big way just 4:14 into the game when his shot from the right wing found its way through Matt Kaludis and opened the scoring for the Thunderbirds. Danville would answer with a power play tally from Levi Armstrong on a deflection in the slot from a Nathan Campbell shot. Jan Salak would guarantee a Thunderbirds the lead with a snipe that went short side on Kaludis and into the top-right corner. That goal would eventually go down as the game-winner, and it was all Thunderbirds for the final two periods.
Jay Croop scored at 9:03 in the second period with a goal off his leg on a juicy rebound given up by Kaludis. Later, it was Niec shooting low for his second of the night.
The third offered more of the same with Jiri Pestuka starting the scoring at just 4:57. Michael Bunn rang a shorthanded shot into the top-left corner from about thirty feet for a 6-1 lead. If that wasn't enough for the sellout crowd on Fan Appreciation Night, Niec would give them a cherry on top. His hat trick goal came with 1:34 left in the game to bring the crowd from loud to deafening. When the final buzzer sounded, the fans cheered and saluted their team to put an exclamation point on an incredible 2018-19 season.
Christian Pavlas picked up his FHL record 30th win of the season in this game, stopping 24 of 25 shots. Matt Kaludis took the loss, stopping 50 of 57 shots.
3 Stars of the Game:
Photo credit: V. Khouri