For two teams fighting for supremacy, the hype could not get any higher.
And the game could not have had any more of a fitting ending for the Colorado Eagles.
Down 2-0 midway through the second period, the Eagles (27-5-5, 59 points) rallied and beat the Wichita Thunder 3-2 before a sold-out crowd of 5,289 at the Budweiser Events Center. The bitter rivalry included 32 penalties and a contested no-goal at the end of the game.
Wichita took a 1-0 lead in the first after Paul Esdale beat goalie Tyler Weiman on a power-play opportunity. The Thunder added another goal just 3:23 into the second period, taking a commanding 2-0 lead.
But, just following the second goal, Eagles winger Ryan Tolber took on Thunder enforcer Derek Parker in what seemed like an epic fight that gave the Eagles momentum.
"I think that (fight) changed the whole game," said Weiman, who notched 26 saves in the win. "It gave us some momentum."
Momentum was what the Eagles needed to jumpstart their offense, scoring the next three goals to win. Greg Pankewicz scored just 0:31 seconds after the fight, and Riley Nelson tied the game up just three minutes later.
Pankewicz gave the Eagles the lead for good midway through the third period, sliding the puck past Thunder goaltender Jason Flick after Tobler fed him a pass in front of the net.
Wichita put the puck past Weiman as time expired in regulation, but the officials waved off the goal, saying time had expired before the puck crossed the line. Although the Thunder appealed, the score stood and the Eagles walked out with the win.
For both clubs, special teams proved critical. Each scored once on a power play, and the Eagles killed off multiple penalties, including a 5-3 in the third period and a 5-4 at the end of the game.
"Sometimes penalty killing gives you a boost," said Nelson, who also had an assist. "A lot of times you have to take advantage of your opportunities."
The Eagles then took another win, their 10th in a row, from the Fort Worth Brahmas on Saturday night.
The game took a much slower pace than the previous night, however.
"You saw two tied hockey teams out there tonight," said Eagles head coach Chris Stewart.
Tobler added a goal to extend his point streak to seven games, while Pankewicz kept his 15-game scoring streak active with an assist.
Eagles goaltender Paulo Colaiacovo picked up his second win in two games, shutting out the Brahmas and making 28 saves.
"It's good for (Weiman) to have a solid backup," Stewart said. "He doesn't have to feel like all the weight of the world is on him."
Colaiacovo said he wanted to play as well as Weiman, who leads the CHL with eight shutouts and a .945 save percentage.
"I think it's good to challenge each other," Colaiacovo said. "We both want to play, and it's good to know we're both ready."
The Eagles will go on the road for the next two weeks, starting Friday when they will visit Topeka. They will return home on Feb. 9 against Lubbock.
"The guys need the time off physically and mentally," Stewart said. "Then we'll get back to business."
WICHITA 2, COLORADO 3
WIC 1 1 0 2
COL 0 2 1 3
First period – Goals: Esdale, Wichita 11;06, Penalties: Blaznek, Wichita (Hooking) 7:25, Flipic, Colorado (Roughing) 10:11, Duda, Wichita (Ob. Tripping) 12:22, Mazurak, Wichita (Cross Checking) 14:12, Tobler, Colorado (Spearing) 14:12, Grosul, Colorado (Holding) 15:06, Sickavish, Wichita (High Sticking) 17:31; Second period – Goals: Esdale, Wichita (Duda, Clayton) 3:23, Pankewicz, Colorado 6:19, Nelson, Colorado (Pankewicz, Desrosiers) 17:29; Penalties, Pankewicz, Colorado (Slashing) 2:38, Parker, Wichita (Unsportsmanlike) 2:38, Liebel, Wichita (Charging the Goalie) 4:37, Mallette, Colorado (Roughing) 4:37, Parker, Wichita (Fisticuffs) 5:48, Tolber, Colorado (Fisticuffs) 5:48, Mazurak, Wichita (Elbowing) 7:15, Forsyth, Wichita (Unsportsmanlike) 8:47, Zirnis, Colorado (Unsportsmanlike) 8:57, Williamson, Colorado (Ob. Holding) 10:31, Metcalf, Wichita (Holding) 12:22, Metcalf, Wichita (Unsportsmanlike) 12:22, Tobler, Colorado (Cross Checking) 14:53, Fairbarn, Wichita (Holding) 16:37, Ruff, Colorado (Fisticuffs) 18:25, Sickavish, Wichita (Fisticuffs) 18:25, Lephart, Colorado (Ob. Hooking) 19:06, Clayton, Wichita (Slashing) 19:47; Third period – Goals: Pankewicz, Colorado (Tobler, Nelson); Penalties: Pankewicz, Colorado (Unsportsmanlike) 3:07, Parker, Wichita (Unsportsmanlike) 3:07, McLean, Wichita (Roughing) 9:05, Williamson, Colorado (Roughing) 9:05, Williamson, Colorado (Hooking) 16:01, Williamson, Colorado (Holding)18:18, Duda, Wichita (Gross Misconduct) 20:00; Shots on goal – Wichita 9-10-9 28, Colorado 6-9-7 22; Power-play opportunities – Wichita 1-for-8; Colorado 1-for-9; Goalies – Wichita: Flick(L): 10-4-1 (22 shots, 19 saves); Colorado: Weiman 23-2-4 (28 shots, 26 saves)
A – 5,289
T – 2:51
FORT WORTH 0, COLORADO 2
FTW 0 0 0 0
COL 1 1 0 0