The Colorado Eagles entered Wednesday night's contest with revenge on their minds, facing off against the same Wichita Thunder squad that handed them a 3-2 shootout loss last Saturday in Wichita.
The Eagles entered the game first in the Northwest Division with a mark of 30-9-5, the best record in the Central Hockey League. Wichita came in ranked third in the Northwest Division with a 24-12-5 record.
In their two seasons as a franchise, Colorado has developed a bitter rivalry with Wichita, meeting them in the playoffs in each of their first two seasons. The first series was taken by Wichita 3-1, and last season the Eagles topped Wichita 4-2 en route to an eventual Presidents' Cup championship.
"It's a big rivalry the last couple years here, pretty much ever since we started here in Colorado," said Eagles Assistant Captain Riley Nelson. "They've got a good team, they battle hard and their specialty teams are very solid."
The Eagles looked to their captain, Greg Pankewicz, who stepped up in a big way, netting three goals to secure a 5-3 win. Regarding the ongoing rivalry with Wichita, Pankewicz had this to say:
"Any time you play a team that's evenly matched, as we are with Wichita, it comes down to specialty teams and discipline. We were just fortunate enough to come out on top."
As the two most efficient power play units in the Central Hockey League, both coaches knew that specialty teams would play a key role in the contest. Colorado made the most of their chances, going 2-8 on power plays, while Wichita had some success of their own going 2-12.
Eagles Head Coach Chris Stewart fully understood the importance of specialty teams in this contest.
"That's your bread and butter," he said. "You've got to be successful on the penalty kill and power play if you want to win these games late in the season."
Two goals from Pankewicz and one from Scott Polaski helped give the Eagles a 3-1 lead by the first intermission.
In a penalty-riddled second period, Wichita got a chance to get their power play going thanks to five consecutive Eagles penalties, andthey took full advantage. The Thunder scored two power play goals to tie it up before the start of the third period.
Perhaps fired up after being on the penalty kill for the majority of the second period, the Eagles took only twenty-two seconds to score, as defenseman Erik Adams put Colorado up 4-3. Pankewicz finished off his hat-trick performance on a five-on-three advantage to seal Wichita's fate.
Colorado will face Wichita again in their next game Friday night in Wichita, before coming home to take on the Lubbock Cotton Kings on Saturday night.