Koepplinger's Shootout Winner Lifts Birds Over Wolves


Before another packed crowd inside the Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex, Josh Koepplinger played hero in a shootout thriller between the Carolina Thunderbirds and the Watertown Wolves. 

A game filled with huge goals, huge saves, and huge hits could not be decided in even 65 minutes of hockey. Both teams traded goals, chances, checks, and saves throughout a tumultuous back-and-forth affair.

Carolina started out hot, both in their heads and on the ice. Viktor Grebennikov was injured on a boarding penalty (but later returned) just a handful of seconds in. Gus Ford added to his league leading point total with his 29th goal of the season, dusting defenders in his wake to put home a backhander on a power play rush.

Then, the Wolves came howling. Peppering the Carolina zone with a sustained attack, they added three unanswered goals in the opening frame to take a surprising 3-1 lead.

The Thunderbirds took the punch, and came back with a counterpunch of their own. John Buttitta found Justin Pringle off the rush midway through the middle frame to cut the Watertown lead in half. Lucas Rowe wired home his 23rd of the season on a wrister from the high slot to tie the game at 3, six minutes after Pringle's marker.

A tightly contested third finally opened up when Rowe blasted home his 24th goal of the year on a one timer off a beautiful pass from Ford to give Carolina a 4-3 lead. A lead that almost lasted the rest of the way.

Larry Yellowknee popped one home out of a netmouth scramble to tie the game at 4 in the final minute. Overtime went scoreless.

The first two shooters for each side scored in the first rounds of the shootout. Yellowknee and Brendan Hussey for Watertown, and Ford plus Jiri Pestuka for Carolina. The next two shooters per side were stopped by respective netminders Gregory Hussey and Mario Cavaliere. 

Josh Koepplinger stepped out, stepped up, and sent everyone home happy as he sniped a wrister over top of Hussey to give the Thunderbirds a hard earned 5-4 shootout victory.

Carolina hosts the Wolves once more tomorrow night, for what will be the fourth of a season-long six game homestand.