River Dragons Make Big Late Push, But Come Up Short Vs Thunderbirds

Columbus, GA - The Carolina Thunderbirds took the first meeting of the FPHL's newest southern rivalry by a score of 4-3 on Friday night.

The meeting between the two teams was hotly anticipated with four former Thunderbirds and a few front office members who were a part of the 2018-19 championship season in Winston-Salem now suiting up in River Dragons colors. the game certainly played like a heavyweight bout as well.

Carolina broke through first after a weird bounce off the kickplate on a George Holt dump in left Joe Cangelosi all alone in front of Jared Rutledge. Rutledge attempted to cut down the angle quickly but Cangelosi was able to bear down and bury bottom left corner for his first of the season. Despite the 1-0 deficit for Columbus, the River Dragons held an edge in shots through 20 minutes, something they would keep the rest of the game.

Carolina would strike quickly in the second as Petr Panacek deflected a puck from just outside the slot on a Stan Vlasov shot from the right point. Rutledge could not see the deflection in time and the Thunderbirds had doubled their lead less than 35 seconds in to the 2nd period. Columbus would fire back with a lot of firepower against Carolina netminder Henry Dill but he was up to the task every time including a 2-on-1 break and multiple one-on-one chances in tight.

After much prodding and pressuring, Columbus would finally get on the board in the third. Jay Croop rang a post entering into the zone which kicked off a shooting gallery against Dill. After about two or three straight saves Croop found the puck again on the left side of the slot and fired through traffic to find twine and make it a 2-1 game.

That goal woke up the Columbus crowd of 2,500+ but it also woke up Carolina.

After an ill-advised move in front of the Columbus net by a defender, George Holt found a loose puck that was turned over and fired one blocker side on Rutledge to restore Carolina's 2-goal lead less than a minute after Croop's goal. About three minutes later Carolina rang one in again this time with Dominik Fejt blasting one from the right point and while the save was made by Rutledge, the rebound leaked through him into the crease and a stick clash between Daniel Klinecky and a diving Jake Howie resulted in the puck going over the line, and Carolina led 4-1.

Columbus put on a surge though. With a little over a minute to go in the third Wyatt Trumbley intercepted a clearing attempt and fired it at net. The puck took a slight deflect off of Ivan Bondarenko and went in and Columbus had a chance at 4-2.

Facing impossible odds with an offensive zone draw with 10 seconds left in the game. Columbus won a draw off a scrum and Will Laporte fed MJ Graham with a beautiful pass in front for Graham to tap in a goal and make it 4-3 with 7.1 seconds left.

The momentum stopped there though as the center ice drop went deep into the Columbus end and the River Dragons could only get the puck to the red line before the final buzzer sounded and Carolina earned all three points.

Henry Dill earned his sixth win of the season stopping 36 of 39 shots in the contest. Jared Rutledge took the loss making 26 saves on 30 shots.

The same two teams go at it again tomorrow but in a different location. This time the series shifts to Carolina for a 6:05 puck drop in the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex. Pregame show on WRCG starts at 5:35.

Three Stars of the Game

George Holt (CAR)
Wyatt Trumbley
MJ Graham