Thunderbirds on to Commissioner's Cup Finals

By Zak DeBeaussaert 

Winston-Salem, NC - It took another gritty effort and a one-goal game, but the Carolina Thunderbirds came away with the win and swept the Port Huron Prowlers on Saturday night, 3-2.

The scoring was opened at the 15:11 mark of the first period when Michael Bunn took a 100-foot pass from Karel Drahorad, attempted a spin-o-rama, and was checked by Marvin Powell. Bunn used his momentum to spin Powell away and fed a beautiful feed to the wide open Jay Croop who buried it for his second goal of the Playoffs. The scoring ended there in the first, but tensions continued to rise between the two teams who were even in shots after 20 minutes, 8-8.

Port Huron would equalize through Alex Johnson who flung a puck in through a screened Christian Pavlas for a 1-1 hockey game. Later in the second, The Michael Bunn Show continued with two goals, the first of which came on a shot from the left circle that beat Paulin through the five-hole. Then with less than two minutes to go in the frame, Bunn picked up a puck from the right circle, made a cut move around a defender and slid it past the outstretched pad of Paulin to make it 3-1. The period would end with the Thunderbirds on a parade to the sin bin and the Prowlers having 1:14 of 5-on-3 time to begin the third on a fresh sheet of ice. 

Those two penalties were killed off by Carolina, who went 7-7 on the PK tonight, and gave the crowd some more life at the Annex. That life was squashed midway through when Matt Graham scored a highlight reel goal with a deke through a defender and a five-hole shot on Pavlas that brought the game back to within one. With tensions rising, the energy level was through the roof for both teams. Unfortunately for the Thunderbirds, this meant a few more penalties, as they found themselves down a man for 2:30 of the last four minutes. Carolina's PK remained perfect throughout the night to seal the win with great defense and book their first ever trip to the Commissioner's Cup Finals where they will take on the Elmira Enforcers in a best-of-five series.

Christian Pavlas stopped 29 of 31 shots for the win, Chris Paulin stopped 26 of 29 in the loss.

The Thunderbirds host the Enforcers for Game 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday night next weekend at the Fairgrounds Annex. Tickets are on sale at the Fairgrounds Box Office or by searching Carolina Thunderbirds on TicketMaster.

3 Stars of the Game:
Michael Bunn
Christian Pavlas
Jay Croop

Attendance: 2,768

Photo credit: V. Khouri