Bizarre shootout sees Thunderbirds beat River Dragons, grab two points

COLUMBUS, GA—Empty bottles and boos rained down from the seats of the Columbus Civic Center on Saturday night as the Carolina Thunderbirds celebrated their 4-3 shootout win over the River Dragons. The game’s final result was a point of contention after MJ Graham’s apparent shootout winner was later waved off, paving the way for Carolina’s eventual shootout win.

Controversial as it ended, the game began like any other. Bailey MacBurnie started in the Columbus goal, and Nick Modica made his second consecutive start for the Thunderbirds, making him the first Carolina goaltender to do so this season.

Thunderbirds recent pickup Gus Ford would open the scoring just 3:37 into the game, streaking down the right wing and sliding the puck between the legs of MacBurnie. Viktor Grebennikov would pick up his 5th assist of the season, snapping a three-game point draught. Ford would add another goal 14 minutes later, flipping a David Nicoletti pass between his own legs, cutting across the ice, and outwaiting a sprawling MacBurnie to bury his second of the period. Carolina’s 2-0 lead would last only 19 seconds, as MJ Graham tipped home a Robert Vanwynsberghe pass from the corner.

A back-and-forth second period saw the River Dragons maintain their footing offensively. Austin Daae would bury a wrist shot off the rush, low to the stick side of Modica to tie the game.

The third period continued with more of the same, until Jay Croop would score at 17:12 to put the River Dragons ahead. With the Thunderbirds beginning their breakout, the play began moving up ice. As Columbus cut the breakout off just inside the blue line, Croop was all alone in front of the goal and behind the play. Paul Fregeau would send the puck in front and Croop buried it. Moments later, Blake Peavey would deflect home a Vaughn Clouston centering pass, tying the game inside two minutes left in the 3rd.

A marathon overtime could not decide a winner, with Columbus outshooting Carolina 6-2 in the extra frame.

The game would then embark on a historic shootout. After neither team scored on any of its first five attempts, Gus Ford would score as Carolina’s 6th shooter. That would put the pressure on Columbus Captain Josh Pietrantonio to score and keep the game going. Pietrantonio would do just that, walking in and firing a rocket past the glove of Nick Modica.

Several more rounds would pass without a goal scorer, until MJ Graham came to shoot for Columbus’ 11th attempt. Graham would slow down at the top of Modica’s crease before sliding the puck around the goaltender. In the midst of Columbus celebrating the win at center ice, the officials came together to talk over the play, eventually waving off the goal. The shootout would continue.

Modica, who had already taken off some of his equipment, had to be brought back onto the ice along with Columbus goaltender Bailey MacBurnie. Viktor Grebennikov would send his shot up past the blocker of MacBurnie, suddenly putting Carolina in the driver’s seat of a game that was all but lost. Modica would then stop Columbus’ 12th shooter in Hunter Bersani, giving the Thunderbirds the extra point.

The win would snap Carolina’s three-game losing skid, and bring them to 2-3-1-0 on the season. Carolina and Columbus will meet back at the Columbus Civic Center next Friday night, opening a home and home series that weekend.