Buttitta’s OT winner lifts Thunderbirds in front of record crowd

 Biloxi, MS – After letting a 3-0 lead slip through their fingers, the Carolina Thunderbirds battled back in overtime to defeat Columbus 4-3. John Buttitta’s overtime goal brought a FPHL record 7,288 fans to their feet at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum on Friday night.

On his 29th birthday, Chris Paulin made his second consecutive start for the Thunderbirds. Paulin was coming off a 22 save victory against Port Huron last Saturday night. The game’s first period saw end-to-end action as the players fought to learn the bounces of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Neither team scored, but Columbus outshot Carolina 13-10. Paulin made a number of saves to keep the game even, while Bailey MacBurnie did the same in the other crease. The only entry onto the game sheet after 20 minutes was Justin Barr’s heavyweight fight against Justin Schmitt.

The second period brought the game’s first goal, as well as a wall of teddy bears. For the third straight game, the Thunderbirds found themselves in the midst of a teddy bear toss. Zach Sargis sent a seeing-eye wrist shot toward MacBurnie, beating the Columbus netminder for his first as a Thunderbird. Later in the frame, Daniel Martin found himself on a 2-on-1 with Dawson Baker. Feigning pass, Martin snapped the puck over MacBurnie’s glove for his sixth of the season. Baker’s assist on the goal would be his first point with Carolina. Just moments later, Gus Ford’s sixth goal in three games put Carolina in a comfortable 3-0 lead. Though they carried much of the momentum, the Thunderbirds would falter at the end of the period. Austin Daae buried the rebound of a Paul Fregeau shot inside the final minute to put the River Dragons on the board.

Columbus continued its comeback in the third period. With Zach Sargis in the penalty box for tripping, Jay Croop deflected a powerplay goal past Chris Paulin. The River Dragons would continue to dominate play in the 3rd, outshooting Carolina 17-7. With the goalie pulled and just four seconds on the clock, Hunter Bersani’s seventh of the year tied the game at 3-3. The stage was set for overtime, and the River Dragons had all the momentum.

Overtime lasted just 2:35. Both teams had several chances, but none better than Josh Pietrantonio. On a 2-on-1 with Austin Daae, Peitrantoni had a yawning cage and let go a strong snap shot. Chris Paulin stacked the pads, denied the shot, and sent John Buttitta on a breakaway. Buttitta was tripped on the play, setting up another Carolina powerplay. Gus Ford let go a wrist shot from the blue line moments later. After the puck was tipped, John Buttitta potted the rebound behind a sprawling MacBurnie to win the game. Buttitta’s heroics earned him 1st star honors, and Chris Paulin made 43 saves in his virtuoso performance. With the win, the Thunderbirds improve to 6-6-2-1, and find themselves in 4th place.

Carolina and Columbus square off tomorrow night at the Columbus Civic Center, with puck drop set for 7:05 EST.