Thunderbirds Stay Hot

By Jared Tennant 

Mentor, OH - The Mentor Ice Breakers fell behind early and weren’t able to recover in a 4-1 loss against the visiting Carolina Thunderbirds on Boxing Day at Mentor Civic Ice Arena. Playing without their top two scorers in forwards Mark Essery and Gordy Bonnel may have made the difference, as this game marked the Thunderbirds’ league-high seventh consecutive victory.

The contest started off in exciting fashion with both sides generating scoring chances early. In the first five minutes of the game, netminders Derek Moser of Mentor and Carolina’s Christian Pavlas traded big saves to keep the game scoreless. The Thunderbirds broke through at 7:36 of the opening period when Josh Pietrantonio was credited with a goal after Carolina threw a puck in front of the net and it was deflected in. Seven minutes later, forward Michael Bunn made it a 2-0 game on a long shot that appeared to be from the neutral zone. Moser was screened on the play and probably wasn’t expecting the scoring attempt from such a long distance. It was evident throughout the opening frame that there’s a reason why the T-Birds have allowed less goals than any FHL other team. They arguably forecheck better than any other team and swarm the opposition in their defensive zone. Carolina maintained its two-goal lead as the two clubs headed into their respective locker rooms for the first intermission.

The Ice Breakers got on the board midway through the second period when forward Matt Kadolph scored his first professional goal. Kadolph took a pass from Devesvre on a two on one fast break before deking around Pavlas and finishing with a backhanded shot. Some of the bad blood that developed between Mentor and Carolina appeared to carry over in several parts of the game. Towards the end of the second period, a scrum broke out and several penalties were given, including an ejection to Ice Breakers forward Ivan Vilcauskas that resulted in a Carolina five-minute power play. 

Over three minutes of that man advantage carried over into the final frame and the Thunderbirds capitalized when Karel Drahorad made it a 3-1 game just 39 seconds into the period. Carolina controlled play for most of the third, partly due to some untimely Mentor penalties. The T-Birds essentially put the game out of reach for the Ice Breakers at exactly 10:00 when Chase Fallis netted Carolina’s second power play goal of the contest, making it 4-1. A quick sequence towards the end of the game caused tempers to boil over on both sides. Mentor forward Vaughn Clouston brought the puck into Carolina’s defensive zone before being taken down and having his helmet ripped off by Ryan Jasinsky. Clouston took exception and slashed Jasinsky, who quickly returned the favor before Clouston was jumped by three Thunderbirds players. Luckily, no one was injured as players from both sides skated over and settled things down. 

Drahorad and Pietrantonio both logged a goal and an assist, while the Thunderbirds held a massive 40-20 edge in shots on goal. Pavlas finished with 19 saves en route to his seventh win of the campaign, while Moser fell to 5-5-0 after stopping 36 of 40 Carolina shots. As they’ve done throughout the season, the Thunderbirds dominated on special teams. Carolina went 2-for-6 on the power play while successfully killing off all seven of Mentor’s man advantages.

The two teams will wrap up their three-game series on Friday and Saturday in Winston-Salem, NC. Mentor will not play tomorrow, but Carolina will make a trip to Port Huron to take on the Prowlers on Thursday night as part of their stretch of four games in four days.

Photo credit: Dee Hannum