That first taste of success is so reassuring for an emerging first-year team. The thrill of victory, so lacking and absent through nearly one-half of the 2019-20 Federal Prospects Hockey League season, is finally providing the Delaware Thunder’s players with the reassurance that they are – at long last – on the right track.
In addition, leading scorer Ryan Marker’s 43 point total leads the entire 10-team FPHL, his 22 goals tie him for the top spot, and his 21 assists rank 5th best.
The First State’s first pro hockey team showed that they know how to play winning hockey during their recent five-game pre- and post-Christmas trek through the states of Georgia and New York. The Delaware Thunder posted the franchise’s first-ever three-game winning streak, with each of them being achieved at an enemy rink.
In the most recent triumph, Delaware upended Watertown, 4-3 on Friday, Dec. 27 in Watertown Arena less than 24 hours after defeating Elmira, 6-4 on Thursday, Dec. 26 at First Arena. The streak began on Saturday, Dec. 22 with a 5-3 win at Columbus (GA) Civic Center.
The Thunder returned home to the Thunderdome in Harrington, Delaware on Saturday, Dec. 28 and dropped an 8-3 verdict to Watertown in the second half of a home-and-home set during the season’s first of several three-game weekend slates.
“Our team is starting to come together, buying into (our) system, and realizing that losing is not an option anymore,” said Head Coach Charles Pens, Sr. “Our defense is (becoming) solid, and (goalie) Aaron Taylor is (making big saves).”
Delaware 4, Watertown 3
In Friday night’s 4-3 triumph at Watertown, goalie Taylor was a veritable wall, making 55 saves with his team being outshot 58-34. His teammates built a 4-1 lead and withstood a furious two goals in :14 comeback attempt by the home side later in period three. Forwards Evgenii Demin (his 5th) and Anton Kalinin (his 6th) each scored shorthanded goals in the 1st and 2nd periods, respectively to give Delaware a 2-0 lead. After Watertown cut the lead to 2-1 in the final minute of the middle session, forwards Thomas Munichiello (his 1st) and Weng To (his 4th) tallied 4:32 apart midway through the third period to give Delaware a three goal margin.
Delaware 6, Elmira 4
In Thursday’s 6-4 victory at Elmira, Marker broke a 4-4 tie with his 21st goal of the season midway through the 3rd period to give his team a 5-4 lead. He completed his 2nd hat trick of the season with his third tally of the night on the power play five minutes later.
Marker’s first goal of the night, also scored on the man advantage, started Delaware’s rally from a 3-1 deficit in the second period. Forward Patrick Tondl’s first goal of the season just :29 later tied the score 3-3, and Kalinin’s power play goal later in the middle session gave the Thunder its first lead of the night, 4-3. Elmira’s only power play tally in three attempts tied the score before the second intermission.
In the 1st period, Delaware tied the score 1-1 on Brennan Young’s 8th goal. The Thunder, which went 3-for-6 on the power play, outshot the Enforcers 41-34 as goalie Taylor made 30 saves. Demin finished with three assists, while Kalinin added two assists to his 2nd period red light.
Delaware 5, Columbus 3
Before the holiday, Delaware delivered its first victory of the streak. 5-3 at Columbus on Saturday, Dec. 21 by out-scoring the host River Dragons during an eruption of red lights as the teams combined for five goals in a span of 7:04 midway through the second period.
After Cutting gave Delaware a brief 2-1 lead on Saturday with his 3rd goal of the season and 2nd in two games, Columbus recaptured the lead, 3-2 with two goals during the ensuing :30.
But the Thunder would not be denied. Just 2:26 after the River Dragons had forged ahead, forward Brennan Young tied the score at 3-3 with his 7th goal of the season. Forward Brendan Contratto also notched his 7th of the year just over three minutes later to give Delaware the lead for good, 4-3. Marker netted his 19th by hitting an empty net late in the third period.
Delaware opened the scoring in the first period when Demin scored his 4th of the season, and Columbus tied it five and a half minutes into the second session. Goalie Taylor made 44 saves as Columbus outshot the Thunder, 47-37.
Columbus 6, Delaware 3
Delaware also drew first blood on Friday night in a 6-3 loss. Cutting netted his 2nd of the season on a power play and teammate Kalinin notched his 4th to give the visitors a quick 2-0 lead less than 10 minutes into the game. After the River Dragons tallied twice in a :35 span to tie the score 2-2 later in the first session, forward Eric Masters hit the back of the net for his 2nd of the year to give Delaware a 3-2 lead less than three minutes before intermission.
After a scoreless second period, Columbus literally took control of the game, scoring twice in a :56 span to take the lead for good, 4-3. The home team added two more goals later in the final five minutes, out-shooting the Thunder for the game, 38-38. Goalie Taylor made 32 saves in the setback.
Watertown 8, Delaware 3
In Saturday’s post-Christmas Thunderdome loss to the Wolves, Kalinin scored twice (his 7th and 8th) and Cutting added a singleton (his 4th) as Watertown built leads of 2-0, 6-1 and 8-2. Starting goalie Taylor made 21 saves and surrendered five goals through 40 minutes, and Morgan Hudson made five saves while allowing three goals in the final 20 minutes.
Delaware currently sports a 6-15 mark and a 5th place ranking in the FPHL’s Eastern Division, while Watertown is 12-8-0-0-1 and in 2nd place in the Eastern Division, one point ahead of third place Mentor and nine points behind first place Danbury.
“We plan on making some changes during the next week or two to upgrade our offense,” said Coach Pens, Sr. “We have a very good team and look for more big wins in the near-future.”
The Thunder travels to Port Huron of the FPHL’s Western Division this weekend for games on Friday and Saturday night, with both opening puck drops scheduled for 7:30 p.m. EST.